Food For Thought

Take a Breath

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Turns out the last time I did one of these posts was a long old time ago – two years and almost two months in fact! The Tour de France was happening and those twins were nothing but a twinkle in my eye. How time flies, eh? Back to 2016 and it’s been a bit of a bumpy few weeks in the Dix household. As well as our daughters turning a grand old six months, we’ve had runny noses and hospital admissions, alongside cozy nights on the sofa, a few good coffees and catch ups with friends after weeks apart.

We’re all safely back at home, with better health in sight, and finally making plans for our garden just as the summer ends. We’re hoping that by this time next year we will have actually spent an hour or two enjoying it. Plans to pull up paving slabs and conifers are on track for next spring, gravelling the whole thing over and dotting around lots of pots with shrubs and herbs. Stage two is a grander affair with some benches, raised veg plots and even a… shed! How exciting. It’s nice to be working on the house again. I seemed to miss that whole stage of pregnancy, what with giving birth early and having a less than satisfactory time towards the end, so it’s nice that “nesting” has finally caught up with me.

I’ve been spending a lot of time inside recently, I guess mainly so the girls can fully establish a napping schedule and also, because you kind of run out of places to go with a double buggy. I’m very much an “always out” person, or I have been previously to having kids, so I still try to get out and about everyday, even if it’s just for a coffee. It’s easy to feel isolated in the first stages of motherhood but I keep myself busy with classes and long lunches with fellow mum and mum-to-be pals. In general though, I’m back home by 2pm with my feet up. The to-do list for the house is getting smaller, and aside from a repaint in a few rooms and a new runner on the stairs, it’s mainly about soft furnishings and putting prints up now. It’s lovely to have seen it come so far in three years. I suppose we’ll finish things just when we find we need to expand space-wise… typical! I really enjoyed Amy’s post Things I Have Learned About House Renovation and a lot of memories from the early days came flooding back!

I’ve started reading quite a lot more, too. In the past month or so I’ve read The Pelican Brief by John Grisham, A Clash of Kings by George R. R.  Martin, and Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. I’d never have usually chosen that last one but I took part in a book exchange on Facebook that ended up with me promising to throw genre expectations to the wind. I really enjoyed it and now I’m part way through The Girl With All The Gifts by Mike Carey and loving it so far. Weirdly, though I turned my nose up at the prospect, a Kindle has really changed the way I read and I’m much more enthusiastic about it somehow. Looking forward to several other novels I have waiting in My Library.

Foodwise, I tried the new I Am Doner via Deliveroo and absolutely loved it. Would recommend the halloumi kebab wholeheartedly. It’s huge, reasonably priced and stuffed with loads of good stuff. The chips travel well too. I’ll definitely be tucking into that again soon. Other than that, I haven’t tried much new recently. I’m a slave to my daily Flat White from Opposite and this summer I’ve really enjoyed sitting on their benches outside, pushing the babies backwards and forwards in the pram and having a bit of quiet time. Matt’s birthday is coming up so I’m looking forward to a meal out then – probably a trip to Ox Club or The Reliance, his favourites. 

I’ve started Baby Led Weaning with the girls this week so hold tight for some posts about that, and I’ve been trying some new recipes at home – hopefully some of which I can photograph and get up on the blog over the next week or so. I’m also heading out to the North York Moors this weekend for a little break so I’ll report back on that too.

In the meantime, let me know what you’re up to down in the comments or come and chat to me over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy. Photos go up pretty much daily on Instagram and remember you can keep up with me over on Facebook, too. See you soon!

Hitting the Reset Button

Lunch at my desk

Lunch at my desk: homemade falafel and hummus, salad leaves, cucumber and mint salad, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, olives and feta topped with sumac, seeds & Sriracha

We talked a little towards the end of last year about my need for some lifestyle changes. Well, it’s finally time for an update! After a good start, early 2015 brought Leeds Indie Food and all that entailed with it, and from January to May I had far less time and quite a lot more stress. You know, my eight hour days turned into 12 or 14 hour days and all that stuff.  Naturally, my health took second string, I indulged to the max and, man, was it was glorious. Burgers for lunch, gins every evening, plus some of the most exciting food I’ve ever eaten during the festival itself.

So, with my health goals still in mind, it’s no surprise that June had to bring a shift in what I ate and how I ate it. All that indulgence meant I was feeling pretty run down, tired all the time and I still had a way to go if I was gonna get on top of my diabetes and get myself to baby-ready status. We all know that my life revolves completely about what I eat, but it was time to reset, knuckle down and fine-tune. I decided to go all-in.

My aims (explained in more detail over here):

  • Nourish my body, give it everything it needs to function properly and happily 
  • Reduce any stress, inflammation and pain my body is experiencing and make it a healthy, happy place for a little person to live
  • Keep my blood sugars as level as humanly possible with a faulty pancreas
  • Work less, exercise more and sleep more
  • Maybe get stronger, healthier, more luxurious looking nails and hair in the meantime? Maybe lose a few pounds too?

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What with the diabetes and the general interest, my food knowledge is pretty good. I know my carbs from my proteins, my zinc from my beta-carotene. However, even with that back-up, the world of nutrition is a flippin’ minefield. So fat is good for you? Fruit is bad? But, hang on, what about cholesterol? -__- I’ve always adopted an “everything in moderation” philosophy before (even if I haven’t stuck to it) but it’s become clear that in this situation that just ain’t gonna cut it. So what do I do? Go paleo? That seems alright. What about Whole 30? Someone told me charcoal is really good for you? *rolls eyes/bangs head against wall*

One fail-safe way to start is with processed foods, kick them to the curb and you can get back on track. That, along with a few small changes, meant I could easily get on top of things, especially when eating at home. I cut down on high carb, high sugar foods straight away (heck, I know I’ll never kick that burger habit completely, and honestly who would want that? Not me) and it’s been pretty easy for me to make everything from scratch.

One area I’ve struggled with over the years, as supportive as Matt and my friends are, is that personally I need something more than that to keep me on track and answer the myriad of questions that pop up. On my own it just feels more difficult. Spinach versus kale? Peanut butter versus almond? Fuck it, I’ll have a brownie. You know the stuff. So I started talking to Laura. She’s a nutritionist. She first came on my radar when her then-blog, Peaches and Greens, was nominated with mine in the Blog North awards last year. She’s plant-based, which – as I understand it – is basically vegan without the stigma attached. I started talking to her and she cleared a lot of things up for me. I’ve been meeting with her every few weeks, keeping a food diary when I remember and packing as much veg into my meals as humanly possible. To be quite honest, it’s helped massively in keeping me on track.

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Now, I’m only a month or so in, but I’m already seeing a difference. I’ve ditched simple carbs for the most part and quite a lot of meat and dairy – around 70% of my meals every week have been meat-free – and that’s lead to a decrease in my daily insulin of around 30% so far. Oh, and I’ve given up booze, fish and caffeine. That’s not totally necessary, but it helps with the whole conception/pregnancy thing. I also feel quite a lot more energetic, I don’t get that afternoon slump at my desk, I’ve lost the post-meal discomfort I used to get during the evenings and my skin looks better than it has in ages. I’m hoping I can maintain the way I’m eating at the moment (peppered with one or two cheat-style meals a week, naturally) and that’ll get me to where I want to be (mum to a healthy, normal sized bambino). 

If you’re interested, here are my starting tips for eating better for health and wellness reasons aka not weight-loss:

  • You can’t do it all at once When I first committed to making a change, I was like “Yes. This is it. I’m in this. All kale all of the time”. Turns out, that’s probably not a helpful attitude. Six days in, I looked up from my plate of fish and chips and thought “Oh bugger, I’ve failed”. It’s great to get excited, but if you’re anything like me you’ll need to reign that in to keep things up. If your diet currently consists of quite a lot of everything, the way mine did, deal with one thing at a time. Burn out will sneak up on you, and there’s no point in beating yourself up. Just take things easy and don’t expect results in seconds.
  • Increase the good stuff before you cut out the bad When Laura helped me work out what I was aiming for, she put it in a really interesting way. I was aiming to reduce the amount of “anti-nutrients” in my diet and replace them with nutrient-rich foods instead. I thought about this kind of how I think about skincare. I don’t just want to clean my skin at the end of the day, right? I want to nourish it. So don’t just stop eating things, silly! Just make them better things. Nowadays I’m filling up on grains, nuts and seeds. I’m not fixated on calories, that’s not what this is about after all, I’m all about the nutritional value and taste (cashew butter, I’m looking at you). 
  • You honestly won’t be hungry As above. My tendency to view this as a “diet” has quickly disappeared. My plates are always full and I’m never hungry after I eat. That’s what I’ve always feared about “low carb” and it just isn’t true – for me, it’s all about variety. Give me a plate of leaves and I’m miserable – gimme a selection of loads of stuff, however healthy, and I’m into it.
  • Eat the rainbow Plates that look prettier are the ones you’ll want to eat, trust me. I try to make my meals as colourful as possible – red peppers, sweetcorn, beetroot, loads of greens etc to keep my enthusiasm up. No one wants to eat a plate of muddy-green and beige.
  • Vegans have good treats When I’m on the run, I generally try to look for vegan snacks, just because it’s easier to understand the ingredients list – there are generally fewer of them – and a lot the time they’re also refined sugar and gluten free too (bonus!). I’m totally into Bounce Balls @bounceballsUK and Ombars @OmbarChocolate, as well as the coconut mylks by @Rebel_Kitchen

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One of the things I was super quick to realise, is that food that’s good for you actually does taste quite nice. You can also get food that’s good for you when you’re out and about (!!) you just have to know the best places to go. If you live in Leeds, check out Laura’s Feel Good Guide for tips and discounts. I think I kind of already knew that, because I’m lucky to like a lot of different foods, so with lots of variation and a little expertise in the kitchen I’ve been making meals which I’m pretty into without any trouble at all. Last night’s tea (and today’s lunch) for example:

Homemade Falafel with Cucumber & Mint Salad
Serves 4
Warming, spicy bites that are quick, veggie, packed with protein and basically guilt free.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
For the falafel
  1. 4 small onions
  2. 8 garlic cloves
  3. 2 tins chickpeas
  4. 1 handful fresh parsley
  5. 2 handfuls fresh coriander
  6. 2 tsp sea salt
  7. 1 tsp mild chili powder
  8. 3 tsp cumin seeds
  9. 2 tsp baking powder
  10. ½ cup gluten-free wholemeal flour
  11. 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
For the cucumber salad
  1. ½ cucumber
  2. 1 handful fresh mint
  3. 1 green rocket chilli
  4. ½ tsp sea salt
  5. Squeeze of half a lemon
  6. 2 tsp white wine vinegar
Instructions
  1. Skin and halve the onions and garlic cloves and pop them in your food processor. Pulse them until they're roughly chopped.
  2. Add the oil to a large, heavy bottomed pan and heat it over a medium heat.
  3. Add the rest of the falafel ingredients to the processor and pulse to the consistency you like - I like mine pretty smooth but if chunky's your thing - work it.
  4. When the oil is hot enough (see notes), use an ice-cream scoop to drop balls of the mix into the pan. You'll hear sizzles when it hits the pan. Don't crowd the pan - I fried no more than four at a time - it's time consuming, but worth it.
  5. Leave the falafel to fry for 3 minutes or until a nice, golden brown crust has formed, but keep busy - while the pan is sizzling, dice your cucumber into 1cm-ish pieces and chop your chilli. Transfer to a bowl and add your fresh mint, roughly chopped.
  6. It's probably time to flip your falafel! This should be easy, Use a spatula or slotted spoon to turn those babies over. Fry for another two minutes, until golden brown, and then transfer to a tea towel or kitchen paper to drain. Wait a few seconds for the oil to come back up to temp, and crack on with the next lot!
  7. The next break you get add the salt, lemon juice and vinegar to the cucumber salad. Mix well. To plate, sprinkle that stuff on a bed of hummus and top with delicious, warm falafel. Serve with pitta or salad for ultimate satisfaction.
Notes
  1. To test my oil temperature I use a wooden chopstick. When you think the oil might be hot enough, dip the tip of your chopstick into the pan. If tiny bubbles form around the outside, you're on the money!
Adapted from Just a Taste
Adapted from Just a Taste
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
 These falafels are seriously delicious and they make for such a filling, satisfying tea that weirdly feels very naughty even though it’s basically all good for you. Try ’em, you won’t regret it.

So that’s where I am right now. No doubt it’s easier to eat better in the summer, especially with all this uncharacteristic weather we’re having, but I’m hoping that with planning, research and a little effort I’ll be able to slide on through to Autumn without much trouble. I’m going to try to post here more often, not just about this, but with a variety of recipes, reviews and much more besides. If you’re interested in following my journey a little more closely, you can follow me on Twitter over @whipuntilfluffy and on Pinterest too, where I basically spend all my time these days.

Happy weekend!

Stocking a Store Cupboard [+ Free Download]

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Today is a day for making lists. For standing in front of your freezer and taking inventory. For opening the fridge door to observe your leftovers. It’s a day for browsing cook books – for inspiration not instruction – for thinking forwards and getting your affairs in order. Because tomorrow everything starts again, and it’ll be a good few days before you get the chance to step back and take stock again. 

I seem to have made somewhat of a transformation over the past few months. I think I’ve finally become one of those things I thought I’d never be: an adult. Weekends have become a time for being at home, for catching up with each other and the house. My Sundays so far this year have been restorative, an exercise in boosting morale and getting excited about being organised, as sad as that may be. Yesterday we cleared out our box room. I now have a dedicated space for my food props and styling stuff, and the idea is to slowly turn it into a Utility Room/Pantry – a plan I couldn’t be more pleased with. This plan will free up space, find a place for those things that float around the house without a designated home, and it gives me somewhere with shelves and boxes, to be calm and quiet.

These days, I find planning a treat. As I mentioned in 5 Steps to a Happier Kitchen Life, I’ve stocked my cupboards and I have everything I need to make the basis of delicious meals all week – without having to spend loads of cash on a weekly shop. Honestly, a well-stocked store cupboard can really sort you out. The cost of every single meal you prepare at home will start to go down, and paired with a fit-to-bust freezer, soon all you’ll need is a few fresh ingredients to serve up a banquet. It encourages you to cook seasonally and allows those one or two fresh ingredients you have to really shine. A well-stocked store cupboard saves money and it gives you free reign to get creative.

Give it a quick Google and you’ll find there are hundreds of “Store Cupboard Essentials” lists on the internet. Everyone from Jamie Oliver to Mumsnet has their recommendations, and honestly, I think it’s a very personal thing. Each household uses ingredients differently, so I don’t see how one list can fit all. As you cook, you’ll start to gain an idea of what your own personal taste is. If you cook a lot of North African dishes, you’ll need more couscous and sumac, if Asian’s your thing you’ll need to stock up on egg noodles, Szechuan peppercorns and anise. You’ll fashion your own list for must-haves, and that’s what we’re aiming for. For now, this is just a starting point to help you on your way. 

Whip Until Fluffy Store Cupboard List
(click image to download pdf version)

A few notes:

– Spices and Herbs Dried Bay is the only green herb you’ll find in my cupboard. I keep small plants on the kitchen windowsill which provide me with coriander, parsley and basil, and I have rosemary in the garden too. I know that isn’t possible for everyone, so while supermarket packets aren’t the most cost-effective or sustainable things in the world, a pack each of rosemary and thyme will serve you well and their woody nature means they have a longer shelf life than most. Freeze your leftovers.

– Olive Oil Buy the most expensive olive oil you can, but use it sparingly. I use vegetable oil or butter for most of my cooking, reserving olive for pasta dishes, salad dressings and roasting vegetables. It should taste so good that it feels like a treat, and it should really make the difference to your dishes.

– Rice Vinegar A lot of lists will have white wine vinegar in place of rice vinegar. Ideally we’d all have both, but if you have to choose, I think rice vinegar is a more versatile investment. Great in Asian dishes, for dipping sauces and pickling liquor, it does the job of white wine vinegar and much more besides. The same can’t be said in reverse. 

– Beans This is just down to taste. Tinned beans can be anything from Borlotti to Chickpeas, and you’ll work out your own favourites. In my household we use a lot of Cannellini and Black Eyed Beans. They go a long way and they’re extremely cheap.

– Anchovies, Capers & Redcurrant Jelly These last items on my list are great for packing in flavour and are worth a look even if they don’t seem necessary. They seem costly upfront but they last for ages. Lots of people think they hate anchovies, but chopped and added to dressings and sauces, they add a layer of umami that’s hard to find elsewhere, plus they’ll make a whole meal simply by lying them on top of garlic-rubbed toast. This works similarly for capers in salads and pasta sauces. Redcurrant jelly is perfect to stir into gravy or to glaze meat with.

Further reading on this subject:

For a general philosophy of eating what you have, and making use of seasonal ingredients – try Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries. For example, on this day in his book he ate pork chops with chard, topped with a herb butter he made from fridge-dwelling odds and ends. Well worth a look, and if you’re anything like me – a game-changer.

A few years ago I was given Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. I’m currently rereading chapters like “How to Boil Water” and “How to Have Balance” with added interest. You’ll look at your kitchen, ingredients and equipment differently after reading this.

I hope this list helps. These ingredients have come to be the ones I live by and rely on, and they haven’t let me down yet. Here’s to a tastier 2015! Any thoughts or questions? Leave them down in the comments or catch me over on Twitter @WhipUntilFluffy.

 

Beginning Again

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Contrary to popular opinion, I’m a big fan of January. I crave the cold, I never feel deflated when the festive season is over, and rather than setting unrealistic goals for myself – I harness the natural desire I have for a fresh start and turn it into crazy productivity. January is easily the most productive month of the year for me. I feel positive, inspired and ready to conquer the world!

So after the rush of December, I’m rarely ready by New Years Day to list my plans for the next year. Instead, I tend to mull things over throughout the month that follows, not setting any serious resolutions, but instead jotting down plans and ideas that I’d like to turn into reality. Here’s what I have so far:

– Run an efficient household
I’m aware that this makes me sound like someone from the 19th Century, but I want to keep my house clean, tidy and organised, and I think that’s achievable. I want to stick to a weekly shop budget for food and household supplies and continue to meal plan in an interesting and adventurous way to get better at using what I have and minimise waste. I’m going to know what’s in my cupboards at all times, and never let clutter build up. Tidy house, tidy mind.

– Work on the house
Please note that this isn’t “finish the house”. I’m realistic, I know that in my terms, this house will never be finished. I’ve spoken to enough renovators to know that once you finish the final room, it’s time to redecorate the first again – or to sort out the garden, or think about that extension, or replace the boiler. I’m not into setting unrealistic goals, so all I want to do is regain my enthusiasm to turn this house into a real home. We’ve come a long way, and I’m proud of that, but for now I’m diving deep into house and interior blogs to get the blood pumping again. First stop: declutter the box room and transform it into an efficient storage space, starting this weekend.

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– Pick up new skills
Much like last year, I’m keen to develop some more skills in the kitchen. This year, I’m determined to bake at least one batch of croissants from scratch (all twelve layers!) and start pickling and making my own condiments. Orange curd – I’m coming for ya.

– Get my finances in order
Some major life changes over the past few years have left me gazing at my current bank balance with a mix of awe and horror. This is the year I take charge and become a grown up. I’m going to consolodate and pay off debt, and I’m going to start to save for the future. I’m also going to become much better at being self-employed, promise. Pass me that calculator…

– Even more food
2015 is the year I commit to food even more than I already have. Sadly, that doesn’t mean eating more of it (I’m already on my last belt hole, after all) but it means looking for even more food based work, starting with that little festival I’m helping to organise in May. I’d like more styling and photography jobs this year, more social media work for food brands and more consultancy for smaller businesses and start-ups. All of those things were the most enjoyable parts of my job in 2014, so I hope this year brings more.

– Get a dog
‘Nuff said.

So that’s me. How about you?

5 Steps to a Happier Kitchen Life

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I spoke a bit last year about how to learn “the basics”. Both online and in real life, I seem to be asked often about how I cook, well, and on a regular basis. But what do I need? You ask. What are your staples? Basically, most of you (and my offline friends) want to know how to do the simple stuff. 

At the start of last year, I talked you through my philosophy of how to eat well. Today, I want to talk to you not so much about cooking, as preparation. Tools, tricks, habits to garner better results from your life in the kitchen. These are some simple tips I’ve picked up over the years. This post has been sitting in my drafts for about 8 months, and I’ve been adding bits and pieces as I go, trying to share only the really valuable tips. Some of them may seem like common sense, but it’s alarming how many people tend to ignore something so obvious – myself included of course. I hope these ideas help, after all – the way I see it, I’ve learnt the hard way so that you don’t have to.

1. Cook in a clean kitchen

Now I understand that this might not always be an option. You might get home late from work, tired and grouchy, see the dishes piled up in the sink and think no thanks, I’ll have an oven pizza. The last thing you’ll want to do is wipe down the surfaces, sharpen your knife and fasten your pinny at the back. But, where possible, it’s a great idea to take a few minutes out to prepare your space before you cook. A grubby, cluttered kitchen will stress you out, throw off your timings and put you at risk of burning yourself or damaging your crockery if you’re fighting for space. Grab a cloth and spend just five minutes decluttering your prep area and, trust me, your experience will improve tenfold. You might even enjoy yourself.

Of course, this’ll work even better if you clean as you go, and spend ten minutes after dinner every night doing dishes and wiping down the hob. But after a couple of hours slaving over a hot stove and a belly full of good food, that’s not always realistic. Cleaning as you go is beyond valuable if you have an open plan kitchen like mine. No one wants to arrive to see their hostess whisking furiously in a cloud of icing sugar with dirty pots covering every surface, and there’s no door to hide behind. Simple adjustments like using a mixing bowl as a make-shift bin to keep your surfaces clean as you prep can make a world of difference. It’s a space saver and it’ll fence in the amount of mess you can make. I’ve done my best to get into these habits after renovating my kitchen and it’s really improved the time I spend cooking and baking.

2. Build up that store cupboard

This is more about cost than anything else. Without doubt, you’re less inclined to play around in the kitchen if each recipe you attempt costs £15 minimum. Experimenting can be expensive – and in January, money is tight. If you do have the cash, just one big shopping trip will sort you out – spend a morning wherever you usually buy your groceries stocking up on dried goods and herbs. Follow that with a trip to your local Asian supermarket for cheap sauces and spices in bulk packs. Health food stores are also great for large bags of pulses and grains – if you’re in Leeds, try Millie’s for things like couscous, pearl barley, corn kernels and lentils. It can be a big outlay at first, but it means you only need fresh ingredients to create an awesome meal.

If your budget doesn’t stretch, add bits and pieces in small amounts to your weekly shops. Things will soon build up, and with a full store cupboard you can get creative anytime. Use my list as a starting point. You’ll also start to learn a lot more about marrying flavours and what tastes good with what. Over the last year or so, I’ve come to rely on the fact that I can raid my cupboard and freezer anytime and be set for a day or two if needs be. Speaking of which… 

3. Use your freezer (and not just for chicken nuggets)

For years my freezer was the place where unidentifiable liquids and pieces of meat went to die. In our old flat, the freezer drawers were all but frosted closed: loose spinach leaves lying brittle and sorry for themselves, old chicken breasts shrivelled with freezer-burn. These days, I run a tight ship. Number one, my new freezer is frost-less and it’s BRILLIANT. It’s also full height so it’s easy to keep track of what’s in it, much less chance of something slipping by, unnoticed for months. Number two, I am very organised about it. I have regular sort outs and I keep an inventory stuck to the door. When I use or add things, I delete or add them to the list accordingly. It’s sounds a bit obsessive, but trust me, it’s a good system. I love a system.

Knowing what you’ve got in the freezer makes you more inclined to base your meals around what you already have, instead of buying new. This is great because it cuts down on waste, and it saves you money. Outside of pizzas, peas and ice cream, there are a great many things you can put in your freezer. Some of my favourites are berries, pastry, cookie dough, bread, spinach, herbs and chicken bones. Take a look at this Lifehacker infographic about shelf-life for a bit more info. For example: Matt and I never get through a whole loaf, but we love having sourdough bread around. When we buy it, I slice half straight away and put it straight in the freezer, and toast it straight from frozen in the mornings. Also, when do you ever use a whole packet of fresh rosemary or coriander? Chop herbs, add water and freeze in ice-cube moulds to add to stocks and sauces. Save your chicken carcasses and freeze them until you have four or five to make a stock from. Pinterest is a breeding ground for freezer talk, have a look on there for inspiration – make sure you follow my boards while you’re there!

At the supermarket I always check the reduced section for cuts of meat or fish – usually their used-by dates are fast approaching and that’s why they’re discounted, but I just take them home and whack them straight in the freezer to call upon when needed. You can make massive savings this way and get some really lovely cuts. Taking advantage of offers on meat is also a really cost effective way to fill your freezer. Finally, I’m really into freezing leftovers after I cook too much, which happens a lot, instead of living off them for days at a time. I’m rubbish at eating the same meal twice so freezing works well for me – I just make sure I label everything clearly with names and dates, and add it to my list so I don’t forget it’s there.

4. Cook from scratch

Over the last two or three years I’ve managed to cut out almost 100% of processed foods from my kitchen. The weird thing? It was kinda easy. It started small, I wanted to learn a few basic recipes – things like how to make an easy pasta sauce, a Béarnaise to eat with steak or a simple custard for an apple crumble. I wanted to learn basic skills, like how to fry safely and cleanly at home, how to steam and chargrill and all that stuff. Gradually, I started to realise that my new recipes weren’t all the effort and money I’d expected. Once I had them down after a few goes, they were really quick, they tasted better and they actually cost less than something prepackaged.

I also found it really easy to get my five a day all of a sudden. Knowing what goes into your food doesn’t guarantee a healthy diet, of course, but it does help you learn a lot about how your body reacts to things and factors like seasonality stop being a mystery and start to define how you pick your meals. It also ups your enthusiasm for high quality, basic ingredients. Since then I’ve learnt that you can eat like a prince on cheap, common ingredients like lentils or chopped tomatoes, and even from someone who relies on at least one burger a week – the amount of sugar and additives in a lot of shop-bought dishes makes me turn my nose up. Cutting out processed foods sent me on a real path to finding my way in the kitchen. Sure, I liked to cook before that, but this level of enthusiasm was all new. Skills are easily picked up and transferable, so making one dish could lead to five more – opening the door to a whole new culinary repertoire. 

5. Create in bulk

Sometimes, inspiration just isn’t there. And you can’t force it. Other days, however, the kitchen is the only place I want to be. On a quiet, rainy day, with a sunbeam or two peaking through the window, I can stand at the hob for hours on end making stock, flavouring oils or roasting veg. It took me a while to realise, but those days don’t have to be wasted on making cupcakes for the sake of it, or a massive lavish dinner for your other half – although sometimes it’s nice to do that. Those days can be spent stocking your cupboards, fridge and freezer for the days ahead. One of my favourite things to do is caramelise onions. Pretty sad, right? I know, but there’s something about it – watching those chunky, sharp slices turn from white to translucent, all the way through to brown – picking up a sickly sweetness on its way that’ll add oomph to any gravy or sauce you chuck them into. I do this in bulk sometimes, at the start of the week, and keep a box in the fridge.

I also love to roast sweet peppers, sprinkled with rosemary and garlic and left to sizzle in a hot oven. Keep them in the fridge, or in a jar of oil to preserve them for longer, and add them to sandwiches or serve with roasted sausages and slices of halloumi for an easy mid-week meal. I’ll also buy olive oil on offer and stuff the bottles with garlic, peppercorns and rosemary, or hot birdseye chillis – shove them to the back of a shelf and let them infuse for a few months. You can also make a batch of your favourite cookie dough, roll it into balls and pop each portion in a ziplock bag. Pull them out one at a time and cook on a baking tray in a 200º oven straight from the freezer – satisfaction in minutes! Stocks, soups and ragus can bubble away on the stove all afternoon and then be portioned out into tubs or bags for the freezer, too – then when you hit a busy patch, or you’re stumped for cash, you have an easy, stress-free solution. 

So there you have it. That’s what I’ve learnt. I hope these ideas help, and I hope I can share more with you as I pick up more skills. Do you have your own tips for staying chirpy in the kitchen? If so, tweet them at me @whipuntilfluffy or share them down in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Sick Days: An Ode to a Spanish Omelette

Sick Days

Ah, sick days. Thankfully, until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t had one in a while. Being freelance means it can be hard to take a guilt-free duvet day, so even when I’m sniffily and surrounded on the sofa by snotty tissues, I find it hard not to check in. Not a day goes by where I don’t hear those emails ding-donging into my inbox, unless something really bad happens. But if you follow me on Twitter, you might know that a few weeks back something really bad kinda did happen. A bout of gastroenteritis sent me into a little something called diabetic ketoacidosis and, as a result, I was admitted to hospital. It wasn’t much fun, a little scary to say the least, but thankfully now I’m back at home no more than a little bruised and queasy, and feeling better by the minute.

There’s only so long on the sofa I can handle before I start to get bored. A few days after I got out of hospital Matt had to go back to work, and mentally I was fine. Totally back to normal – thinking about normal things, needing to be entertained. It was just the physical element that was letting me down. Naturally, my thoughts turned to food. Obviously, the less said about hospital food, the better. Eating in hospital when you have diabetes? Even worse. Luckily, for once, I wasn’t really in the mood for food. When I started getting better, there were two things I craved. 1) Ready Salted Crisps. Walkers, if possible. 2) Thick, soapy white bread spread with salty butter. 3) The ultimate blend of the two: a crisp sandwich! So that was the first port of call.

Once I got home to my own living room, bathed, feet up, favourite teddy under one arm (hey, I may be 27, but he’s been with me through every bout of ill-health so far. He’s going nowhere), I started thinking about real sustenance again. I had to take it slowly, of course. Day one, I couldn’t actually turn my thoughts into physical things – so other than one half of a tuna sandwich lovingly made for me, I settled on buying Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers (the first series) from iTunes and whiling the afternoon away watching him stirring up pork and apples in his shallow casserole, folding berries into whipped mascarpone and sizzling sausages with mustard and honey at his perfect, shiny, kitchen island while he cooed softly to the camera. Oh, Nigel. You brought me back to life. When the six episodes ran out, I bulldozed through The Kitchen Diaries autumn section like nobody’s business, wrapped in my waffle knit blanket, with the curtains shut. If I could’ve found a copy of Toast without getting up from my comfy spot on the sofa, I would’ve devoured that too. There’s nothing so healing as Nigel Slater’s voice tiptoeing around your brain. 

Day two, time to eat! And move about a bit! I dislodged myself from my sofa dent and went to the cooker. I wanted buttery, wholesome and filling, but I could stand at the hob for approximately 4 minutes before I fell over. Plus, I hadn’t been shopping in a while. Matt had diligently bought everything I’d asked for, but I hadn’t been thinking about real food at that point – just asking for tea, crisps, bread, oven chips (which I weirdly craved, having not eaten them since my student days) and fruit juice. Now ready to kick the bland stuff, I went rifling through my fridge and cupboards to find onions, potatoes, half a tin of sweetcorn, and in a totally *ahhh, heavens opening* moment, a little wedge of chorizo.

I turned the oven on to preheat, chopped in record time, perched at the kitchen island on a tall stool, and then had a little rest. Later I pulled that stool up to the oven, and got it all frying. Onions first, followed by potatoes, then I left it sizzling with a lid on over a low heat for 15 minutes before throwing in chorizo and sweetcorn.  After five minutes I poured over 4 eggs and slid it into the oven for 20 minutes until it had a little smidgen of wobble left in the middle. Spanish omelettes (or tortillas) are so low maintenance. I turned it out onto my butchers block and carved it into wedges, which I happily revisited over the next 4-6 hours, testing the waters with a little bit more each time, squidging each segment between a folded piece of bread. For my tastebuds, and my extremely empty belly, this was pure heaven. salty, savoury and with just a touch of spice, it got me back on track. After that I didn’t look back, I even dashed a few drops of Tabasco over the last piece I ate.

That experience, of cooking from a seated position, swaddled in a dressing gown, with an extreme hunger in my tummy reminded me of a memory I have. I was 13, it was the 23rd December, and I was sitting on a ward in Bristol Children’s Hospital. It was diabetes related again (it always is)- a nasty cold had developed into a chest infection and then pneumonia, and I was so desperate to get home in time for Christmas. The Play Specialist was really pushing for me to make a collage, but I was a moody teenager on a ward full of sick babies and I was cross. I hadn’t consumed anything other than a glass of that sickly sweet apple juice that looks like (sorry) extremely unhealthy wee, every mealtime for about 4 days. My mum asked the nurse if she could make me some toast. It was the thinnest, cheapest white bread in existence, but man was it good. Crispy, almost burnt around the edges and deliciously anaemic in the centre, spread with real butter. I ate it and it was like colour started bleeding back into the scene around me. I was home by the end of the day. Even now, I genuinely think that moment is responsible for my constant need to have butter in the butter dish at all times.

Back to this year, the week that followed that spanish omelette brought all the comfort food I could take. Spaghetti Bolognese started me off, then sausage and mash with onion gravy which no one makes better than my husband. On my first trip outside the house I wolfed down a Patty Smith’s burger like never before. These days, I’m off a purely beige diet and back to eating normally. That’s if normally includes a whole kilo of cheese shared between four of us on the weekend just gone. I went to the Scottish Highlands for a four day break with some friends, which was probably the most restorative, healing trip I could’ve gone on. It was so beautiful, so peaceful, I absolutely loved it. I’ll be back soon with some photos.

What do you eat when you’re poorly? Is there a specific food memory that you have relating to a bout of ill-health? Tell me your stories of eating to replenish, heal and recover.

Chatting

Chatting

This morning, I read a post on Amy’s blog which sparked my interest. I’ve been lucky enough to gain a few followers recently (HELLO!), and save for the few of you who have diligently followed me everywhere since I was a young whipper-snapper, there are only a couple of my readers I know well. I think this idea originated with Allie, and it’s a great way to share a bit more, and to get to know you guys who read – I’m grateful for you, so will you be my pal? Let’s chat. Answers (any or all!) on a postcard, or, you know, in the comments section.

1. Tell me about your family.
2. What is your best/most vivid food memory?
3. Money and teleportation are not issues, you have one day. What do you do?
4. Is there something you’ve enjoyed recently? Tell me about it! 
5. What traits do you value most in other people?

My answers?

– My family… they’re nice! I have a mum and dad who have been married for 42 years, they live by the seaside, and I’m the baby – with two older sisters who are 10 and 11 years older than me. It’s safe to say I was unplanned, and have brought my parents a relatively large amount of stress, what with the dicky health and all, but they still love me so that’s sweet of them. My dad is tightly wired and highly driven – he’s my inspiration, he’s supportive and insightful. My mum is more laid back – loving and fun. Likes a party. She was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder when I was 19, which was a weird experience and continues to be so everyday. My sister Kyley is a bit of a live-wire. She’s creative and she makes you feel like you can do stuff you’ve previously doubted. My sister Gemma is one of the people I feel most comfortable around, we speak a lot, even though she’s over 200 miles away, and she visits Leeds every few months. She’s 6 months pregnant so that’s exciting. They’re all a long way away but they’re a huge presence in my life. Oh, and these days I have a husband too.

– I have a vivid memory of eating roast beef at Castle Combe in Wiltshire when I was about nine. My mum, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me saying, is not the most confident or accomplished cook, so it felt like this was my first real memorable experience of real food. It was cut in thin, pink slices on a white, porcelain plate, and I ate it with crispy roast potatoes and cauliflower cheese. It was like a lightbulb had switched on.

– I would eat all day, naturally. It would start with coffee at Courier in Portland, then a trip to Blue Star Donuts for a Blackberry, Bourbon and Basil bad boy. I’d travel to San Francisco to see my friends Adam and Heidi for lunch – I’m thinking they’ll have a taco place in mind. I’d spend the afternoon shopping for books, comics and cookware, then settle into a nice, comfy coffee shop to read what I’ve bought. The evening would be spent at Zucco with my best friends, getting quietly drunk on Aperol Spritzes and Merlot and scoffing plates of Deep Fried Zucchini. I’d fall into bed at 21212 in Edinburgh around 1am, and I’d wake to bright skies and birds, with no hangover.

– Something I’ve really enjoyed recently, is the #ShowMeYourPump tag on Twitter. I took part earlier in the week, and I think it’s an excellent way to raise awareness and bond with my fellow pals with diabetes. The diabetes community on Twitter is something I’ve only recently discovered and it’s been a consistent source of support for me. While forums have always been helpful, it’s understandable that you generally see a certain type of person posting and asking for help. I’ve always felt a little out of my depth in that crowd. Twitter is open to one and all and it goes a long way to help me feel normal. The #ourD tag has a chat every Tuesday from 8-9 which I generally join in with if I’m at home, and users tend to post on it throughout the week, things like “Woke up at 15.0 this morning – feeling groggy. Time for a correction!” It’s nice because there’s always been a sense of shame for me before, like I’m the only one getting it wrong. This helps me understand that we’re all in the same boat. Plus, pictures of 2 year olds wearing their pump with a big smile never fail to make me tear up.

– Honesty. The ability to laugh at oneself. If you look at the people I surround myself with, they’re overwhelmingly silly. People who repeatedly say silly things, put themselves in silly situations or do things to make themselves and other people laugh. I like that, I think it’s admirable, and I’m trying to be more like that myself. As I get older I’m realising that being achingly self-aware is tiring, and at the end of the day you should just enjoy yourself. Who gives a shit what other people think? (Me, most of the time, but I’m trying not to)

So there you go.  If you have a spare five minutes please take the time to share an answer or two below, or even just talk to me over on Twitter. The internet is a wonderful place to connect with people and make friends, so let’s get to know each other.

How to Eat Well: A Beginners Guide

How to Eat Well: A Beginners Guide

Lately, a few people have started asking me how to cook. To be honest I find that question difficult to answer. I think that’s because, in most cases, what they’re really asking me is how to eat.

First things first, you need the basic equipment. I have a friend who requested a post like this who, 6 months into her tenancy, didn’t own a kettle or a toaster. Kitchen fail. That kind of behaviour won’t get you anywhere. You don’t need to spend the earth to eat well, and you don’t need every gadget under the sun to prepare decent meals. Just a few items will suffice and they’ll pay you back in spades. I’m going to do a full post on my own kitchen essentials in the next week or so, but a good knife, a decent sized sauce and frying pan, a wooden spoon and a baking sheet should get you going. Get thee to Wilko*.

For me, good food is about the ingredients you use. You can have all the skill and equipment on offer, but you’ll only ever be as good as the ingredients you use. Knowing which flavours work together is a big plus, and is a knack you’ll no doubt pick up on the more recipes you read and the more time you spend at the hob. For a foolproof guide, I think The Flavour Thesaurus is a resource well worth its salt. Priceless for beginners and experienced cooks alike, it lists herbs, vegetables, meats and more alongside their perfect pairings. Great if you find yourself in a pickle or if you’re just trying something new in the kitchen.

Again on the ingredients kick, find shops and stalls you trust. It may sound silly to the tech-savvy youth of 2014 but your local butcher, baker or greengrocer will look after you. Get to know them and you’ll benefit from their experience and they may even do you a favour every now and again. Few home cooks become great by staring woefully at Co-op’s withered spinach offering. Having said that, I have nothing against supermarkets. If that’s where you shop, no worries. The man on the meat counter at Morrison’s should know his saddle from his rump so use that knowledge. Just think ahead – 7pm on a Friday night might not be the right time to buy your veg for the week. Time it right and buy the good stuff.

Nigel Slater (no big deal but he’s my hero) has a food philosophy that works well for me. He buys local, he buys day by day and he eats what’s in his fridge and what’s in season. The weekly shop is no doubt inevitable, especially for those of us with tight work schedules or kids, but try to use it mainly for cupboard staples and dried goods. Weekly shops make it easy to fall into ruts. Getting home late after work is the ultimate recipe for a fall-back spaghetti dish or, god forbid**, a take-away. That’s fine every now and again, but cooking the same dishes week on week can soon have you feeling frustrated. Buy a little of the fresh stuff everyday and you can have a little of what you fancy when you fancy it. Even if it’s just some plump little tomatoes to go with your pasta, or a sprig of tarragon for a béarnaise sauce. The Kitchen Diaries is the best example of eating this way and it changed the way I think about food. It’s proper food writing, not just a list of ingredients plus a method, and it taught me that eating ingredients when they’re fresh and ripe leads to a varied and exciting diet. Sure you can get strawberries in December, but for me, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should eat them. At the very least, it’s nice to have something to look forward to eating in the summer sunshine. Buy this book and Nigel will walk you through his everyday meals. They’re simple, they’re delicious. Sometimes he even eats a take-away pizza.

I’d also suggest getting it wrong every now and again. I like cooking, I like trying new things, that’s why some of my meals are fails of epic proportion. If none of your meals come out looking like a brown splodge splattered inelegantly onto a plate, I think you’re probably doing it wrong. Too many nervous cooks in my everyday life think that if they mess something up then it’s because they don’t know what they’re doing. Very few of us do. Just give something a go. If it’s gross, don’t worry about it. Try something different. Expand your palate, go on. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick things up, and at the very worst, you’ll know what not to do in the future.

Over the next couple of months I’ll have a few more posts for you on similar topics, including my must-have kitchen equipment, what I consider to be the best books for your kitchen library and lots more. If you like these kind of posts please do let me know. Please leave any thoughts or feedback in the comments below or head over to Twitter for a chat @whipuntifluffy.

* Not for the knife. Splash out, it’s worth it.
** Sarcasm.

Food Resolutions for 2014

Food Resolutions

Give certain things another try. There are a couple of things I’ve always been really annoyed that I don’t like. Most things I’m not impressed by are related to texture, and though I’ve tried long and hard, I don’t think there’s anyway I can train myself to enjoy them. Some things though, I’m still sure there’s some way to change my opinion. The main culprit is coffee. Having watched Matt discover proper coffee over the last year, it’s occurred to me that I’m probably missing out. I’m going to attempt to train my tastebuds in a new series on the blog coming soon, named “Learning to Love”.

Spend cash on quality. I eat out so much. Probably too much. There are so many restaurants and cafes I want to try but it’s easy to fall into a routine. You get used to the places that are near to you, that are dependable and easy. That’s not to say they’re not good, just that there are probably more exciting options out there. This year I vow to try new places. Eat out less but do more research and even spend more money if necessary. I’m interested in trying a few more fine dining restaurants, especially those close to home in Leeds and Yorkshire. I want to try street food, corner cafes and local favourites too. Basically, I just never want to pay over the odds for a mediocre lasagne at Jamie’s Italian again. 2013 saw my dislike for chain restaurants grow but hopefully in 2014 I can visit more independents than ever. No matter how much my friends might like Nandos 😉

Expand my skill set. 2013 was the year I finally learnt how to bone a chicken properly. I want to work on classic techniques and build up my repertoire a bit – I’m talking filleting fish, tempering chocolate, making the perfect choux pastry. I can do a few things really well, through a bit of practice. I’ve got a perfect chicken stock down, I can make my own pasta. But this year I want to round those skills out, Julia Child style. It’s surprising how many things I don’t know how to do to, just because I didn’t eat them growing up. I might even go back to basics and learn how to boil an egg from Delia. Basic skills can act as the start of so many dishes, so I’m hoping it’ll seriously help with putting together recipes and menus.

Commit to seasonal eating. In 2013 I learnt a lot about what to eat throughout the year. By picking foods that are in season I’ve found that my diet has become much more varied and I’m always willing to try something new when I make meals at home, especially when I’m under pressure, if I’m in a hurry or I’ve just got home from work and want something quick. It saves me from falling into ruts with midweek meals, something I’m really thankful for because I get bored easily and a constant rotation of spaghetti bolognese, Thai green curry, sausage and mash and the like can get me down. I’ve definitely also seen a decrease in the times I reach into the freezer for a pizza or borderline looking leftovers. I’m not saying that everything I eat is always in season but I definitely use it as a guide when thinking about what to rustle up. In 2014 I want to commit more to that way of thinking and eat more of what’s ripe as opposed to what’s on the shelves at the supermarket. If you fancy looking into eating seasonably too, I found this infographic pretty helpful.

What are your food plans for 2014? Are you changing anything up? Is there anything you want to try in the year ahead? If so, share it with me down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy. What have you been up to over the festive period? Keep up with my shenanigans over on Instagram. I’ll be back with a recipe in a few days.