It’s damn well bloody over! 69-er is COMPLETE.

And it ends with mixed feelings (and an expanded waistline!).  I’m sorry that there’s no longer going to be anything pushing us out of our comfort zone of routine dinners.  That there won’t be anything that motivates me to whip up a cake or some scones after dinner when I normally couldn’t be arsed.  That it may not occur to me any more to sling together a casual salad or soup for a saturday lunch instead of a sandwich.  However I am relieved that I stand a chance now to lose the weight I’ve put on in the last 9 weeks.  And that I can do other things in life other than cook and pick recipes!

So what have been the wins?

Engaging with cookbooks I normally can’t be bothered to open has been a wonderful discovery.  Who’d have thought that cookbooks without photos actually work?  I love a visual demonstration of a dish to inspire me but a number of my cookbooks didn’t help me out with that. And guess what? The food tasted just as good without the photo.

If a cookbook is old it doesn’t stop it from being excellent – Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef (1999) helped me to make the best beer bread in the world and Nigella’s How To Eat (1998) provided the recipe to an exquisite mushroom ragu.

Even if I don’t particularly like a chef on tv (Rick Stein – I find him very whingey) doesn’t mean that they can’t write an amazing cookery book. I was literally blown away by Rick’s creamy leak cannelloni.

It’s forced me to try different sorts of cooking – I often avoid my Asian/Indian/Chinese cookbooks because the ingredients can be difficult to source.  But we managed and the dishes were a joy.

Conquering bread was a HUGE deal for me.  I’ve talked about making bread for YEARS and with this challenge I made pitta bread, beer bread and potato bread.  My fear of breadmaking has gone.

It’s confirmed to me that some of my favourites will remain favourites.  I refer to them again, but Nigella and Jamie never failed to deliver amazing food throughout the challenge.

And what will I be taking with me going forward?

I’m going to be more curious about my cookery books and not stick to my comfort zone of my three favourite healthy cook books. Different styles of cooking have different merits and it’s fun to mix it up.  I hope to make an attempt to return to as many of those 69 books as possible.

Finally let me talk you through the last eleven recipes of the challenge. They were all pretty lovely – apart from the Basil and Mango Smoothie (Innocent Smoothie Recipe Book) which was a bit bland.  You can look at all the dishes on the collage below, but I’ll pick out my top 3 faves.

  1. Beetroot and Feta and Mint Salad – Fabulous Baker Brothers.  A bit faffy to make as you had to roast the beetroots then de-skin them with rubber gloves.  Messy work I can tell you. But this was a beauty of a dish – fresh and wholesome and deliciously oniony.
  2. Leek Cannelloni – Rick Stein.  This took ages to make and involved four pans on the go at once.  Every element required steeping and simmering and several stages (eg infuse the milk for the cheese sauce for 20 mins with bay leaves, onions & garlic before you even make the cheese sauce!).  And the lasagne sheets we had to boil in a pot ended up stuck together so we had to chuck them out and have a pasta-less cheese bake. However this didn’t matter and the effort was worth it.  It was out of this world.  The tomato sauce was rich, the leeks with ricotta were a great combination and the cheese sauce was so  flavourful and creamy – it was the icing on the cake.
  3. Baked Cheesecake – James Martin.  I went through a phase about six years ago when I’d have people over for dinner and I’d ALWAYS make a cheesecake.  I was obsessed – I must have tried ten different varieties of cheesecake.  So since that overkill, I don’t make cheesecakes, until the challenge that is.  As it turns out I think it’s the best cheesecake I’ve ever made – the lemon zest and whisky soaked sultanas added a subtle and sophisticated twist to a traditional recipe.

So now 69-er is over, what next? Well certainly for the next two weeks before my holiday I’m going to be doing a lot of healthy eating recipes to lose those extra pounds I’ve gained. So expect a post about that.  And for the next challenge – I’m not quite sure yet, but it would be nice to start another juicy challenge in September.  A food waste challenge or mastering a cuisine are appealing ideas.  Do comment and let me know if you have any suggestions for me!

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Posca Supper Club at Trove, Levenshulme

Last Thursday I took Jamie out for a surprise birthday dinner.  I’m amazed I managed to keep up the secret for so long – even insisting that I buy his train ticket out of earshot so he wouldn’t know we were going to Levenshulme.

We arrived bang on time (7.30pm) with our BYO bottle of wine to a completely empty restaurant.  We felt a bit conspicuous as we were shown to our table in the sea of emptiness. However it didn’t take long to fill.

I booked the supper club last month without really knowing anything about it other than it was going to be vegetarian.  I just trusted that if it was happening at Trove it was going to be good AND I love a supper club – so what could go wrong?

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I wasn’t disappointed.  The food was EXCELLENT and really unique.  And Trove is such a nice intimate chilled setting – so the perfect backdrop for this kind of event.

Emma Tillyer is Posca.  She’s a pastry chef by day and wanted an excuse to experiment with cooking techniques like fermenting, pickling, smoking and cheese making. She tries to make everything from scratch and throws in some foraging too. Emma wants people to enjoy her food and have a good time eating it, but she also want to challenge people and give them something different.  Which I think is a great ethos and was beautifully reflected in the interesting food served.

Our first course were Injera breads (Ethiopian fermented flatbreads), tomato stew and tomato salsa. They were like tasty crumpets!  Next up Mozzarella curds, battered and deep fried with poached gooseberries and watercress.  Emma had made the curds with rennet and citric acid, hung them for a few days and mixed them with salt and cream.  And oh yes! They were fine.  Crispy battery delicious cheesiness.

The third course brought us butter poached romaine lettuce, endive, nasturtium leaves, veggie Parmesan and sourdough crisp.  I’ve never had a butter poached lettuce before and I can confirm I REALLY like it.  Never thought I’d say that – but it was a very subtle dish and I liked the contrast of the slippery melty lettuce and the crunch of the sourdough croutons.

Fourth course: Home smoked jersey royals, ricotta gnocchi (with homemade ricotta), spinach and nettle puree, spinach and sunflower seed pesto, rocket and borage flowers. At this point I can honestly say I felt like I was at the French – not only was the dish exquisitely presented (see lower right pic above), with pretty purple borage flowers artfully scattered around the plate, but the flavours were off the scale. The smokiness of the potatoes was to die for and blended brilliantly with the pesto and the lovely squidgy gnocchi.

Finally came the puddings.  There was a bit of a wait for this – I was certainly getting a bit tetchy in anticipation – dessert is an important course for me!  It turns out that Emma had never made vegan ice-cream before and hadn’t anticipated how long it would take to churn a non-dairy ice-cream.  She nearly didn’t serve it due to it’s sludginess.  I’m glad she did: beetroot halwa, sweet beetroot puree, sunflower seed milk ice cream and candied horseradish.  The beetroot halwa was not particularly sweet but had a lovely earthy flavour with nuts and raisins that you discovered as you bit into it.  And the sunflower seed milk ice-cream was a lovely sweet compliment to the halwa.

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And a sweet touch at the end were the petite fours – raw chocolates.  I have to confess that as they looked like rolos I was expecting a sweet hit and they weren’t very sweet at all.  I think I’m too much of a sugar fiend for these pretty little chocolates!

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It really was a fabulous and impressive evening – and what a bargain for £25! Emma’s passion and flair for food was literally dripping off the plates.  And I always love the chilled, minamalist arty vibe in Trove.  Have any of you been to any good supper clubs? Do let me know about them – I’m keen to try more!

 

I can see the end, I can I can! 58 out of 69 recipes cooked!

The end date of this challenge is 28th July (when we hit 69 days of cooking) and that’s in just over two weeks from writing this post.  We’ve cooked 58 recipes and have just 11 recipes to complete the challenge.  I think it’s fair to say we are going to nail it.  The only downside is we are down to the dregs of my cookery books.  Amongst the remaining uninspiring books we have a few dated Rick Stein books, a self healing cookbook and a very traditional James Martin book.  Sorry guys – I’m just not feeling you.  Combined with the fact that I’m now on a ‘sort of’ bikini diet for my holiday in a month, I’m getting frustrated with the pies and buttery sauces offered in these final books.  However, we will persist.  And the whole point of cooking 69 recipes in 69 days was that it was meant to challenge me. And in honesty whilst I might pig out on cakes regularly, I’m always a little scared of pies and heavy savoury meals as I want to save my calories for puddings. So perhaps it’s good for me to be forced to go indulgent on the dinner front.

So let me talk you through the high and lows of the latest stage in our food adventure.  I’ve had a lot of exceptional eating experiences these past few weeks.  In fact I’ll give you a top five:

  1. Walnut and Feta Salad (which in truth was a dip), Nigella: Forever Summer.  A sunday lunchtime last minute ‘let’s just get a bloody easy recipe ticked off’ number. Blitz 75g of mixed fresh herbs with walnuts and feta and voila – you have a sensational herby dip to serve with crudites.  We were smug I must say.
  2. Beer Bread, Jamie Oliver: Naked Chef.  Basically a normal bread recipe with tepid beer thrown in instead of water.  It took us about two hours to cook (it was meant to take 40 minutes) as it remained doughy in the middle for so long.  I was convinced we’d messed it up.  But eventually it cooked through.  And it was a loaf of malty deliciousness that I just couldn’t stop eating.  Terrible for the bikini diet.
  3. Parsnip Rosti with Chargrilled Leeks and Ricotta, Anna Jones: A Modern Way to Cook. This was a delight – pretty straightforward too – grated parsnip and sweet potato mixed with egg and fried up like an omlette then shoved in the oven to complete and finally chargrilled leeks, wilted spinach and lumps of ricotta thrown on top.  Very light and yummy and GREAT for my holiday tummy!
  4. Mushroom Ragu, Nigella: How To Eat.  This tasted like moules mariniere with mushrooms instead of mussels, slow cooked with marsala and red wine.  I’ve just eaten some of the defrosted leftovers for lunch today and oh my the flavour packs a punch – rich, spicy and sweet.
  5. Sichuan Crispy Chilli Pork on Lettuce, Ching-He Huang: Chinese Made Easy.  These were like lettuce burritos – a DIY meal where you lay out leaves of little gem lettuce, piles of beansprouts, grated cucumber and carrot, rice noodles and fried up pork with chilli – and then make your own lettuce wrap.  It was good, so good! Spicy, crunchy, colourful, fresh and fun.  And the cherry on top – low calorie too!

Have a scroll through the collage below and see the latest 21 recipes we’ve cooked.  I’m chuffed that the challenge is encouraging us to keep trying recipes we wouldn’t normally consider – pumpkins scones were fun (I had to order the puree online), and we’ve been experimenting with various granolas (we are now granola pros).  And I’ve discovered lots of tasty low sugar cakes – Nigella’s orange muffins and her blueberry muffins and the British Bake Off apple scone round.  It’s been pleasing to discover I can have my cake and eat it and still strive to flatten my belly.

We have had our first cooking disaster story of the recipes – bubble and squeak – oh it was just tasteless mush.  I’m not convinced that the recipe was that well written because it couldn’t possibly be us could it?!

I’ll be back soon to tell you about the final 11.  I won’t lie, I’m quite looking forward to this being over! But as I’m a sucker for punishment please do comment and let me know if you can suggest a new cooking challenge for me.

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On target for 69 in 69

I may have been quiet on the blog, but Jamie and I are actually ahead of schedule for our 69 recipes cooked 69 days! So I’m going to tell you about recipes 16 through to 37 – that’s 22 recipes!

But in order not to bore myself or you I’ve made them into collages (scroll down to see). So what have we learnt, what were our favourites? Are we bored of the challenge yet?

Not bored, not bored at all! This challenge is bloody brilliant! I’ve realised that I think I love ALL my cookery books! It’s exciting trying to find recipes from my abandoned books.

What I’m also loving is that I’m trying to find a healthy slant on baking cakes.  We made some great ‘fruity muffins’ from The Ultimate Low Fat Cookery Book – very low sugar and fat, but the flavour came from the dates and the orange rind in the muffin. And the Women’s Institute Zuchinni and Lemon Muffins were a surprising winner – moist and zesty and light.

Another new discovery are vegetable tarts made with ready made puff pastry (see beetroot and tomato tarts on the collage below).  Roll out some puff pastry (it costs about £1.25), shove some veg and goats cheese on – whack it in the oven for 20 minutes and you have a really delicious dinner.

And our favourites?  Now that’s tricky.  I can honestly say I don’t think we’ve cooked anything I haven’t liked.  But Nigella’s pasta with mackerel, marsala and pine nuts was a sensational lunch.  My brother came over on a sunday recently and Jamie, my brother and I l literally sat in appreciative silence eating this meal – it was rich, juicy and tasty.

We’ve gained a new enthusiasm for broccoli rice and cauliflower rice.  Hemsley Hemsley’s Adobo chicken with broccoli rice was a really satisfying, filling meal and must have been really low calorie.  And the Foodie Teen’s curried cauliflower rice which we ate with salmon patties was a brilliant idea. Oh and courgetti with homemade pesto! You’ve got to try it – I thought it sounded a bit uninspiring but picked it because we needed a light lunch.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  All of about 300 calories but a really rich, flavourful meal.  And while we’re bigging up the low cal recipes, Anna Richardson’s Garlicky Baked Mushrooms were sensational – whack some hazelnuts, garlic, parsley and oil in a food processor – then put this crumble mixture onto portabello mushrooms and bake for 15 mins – and out comes a delightful healthy lunch.

That’s all from me for this blog post – I’ll leave you to have a good nosy at all the photos. Has anyone else embraced the cookbook challenge? I’d love to hear about it if you have.

collage 3 salmon patties, courgette pasta, tomato pasty, adobo, fish currycollage 1 bundt, thug, beet, aubergine, strogcollage 2 spinach chicken, beanotto, pea risotto, strawberry cake lentil bolognaisecollage 5 mackerel pasta, courgette muffins, pesto courgetti, baked mushroomscollage 4 fruit muffins cucumber tom tart