How to decide what to eat

The best way to decide what to have for dinner is to first decide what kind of carbs you want.

There are some people who think a meal is not complete without meat. Personally I can do without meat for a meal or two, but I cannot happily do without carbs for very long.

And carbs define the kind of meal you’ll be eating. Will it be a traditional meat-and-two-veg (one of which is of course potatoes)? A steaming bowl of pasta? Ditto noodles? Perhaps noodle soup? Or soup with bread? Or a sandwich? Or what about rice? How do you feel about a pie? A real pie of course, none of these stews-with-lids (although if you are a reprobate who likes that kind of fake pie, the puff pastry “lid” can form a whole new carb category).

My considered opinion is that once you know what kind of carbs you want, you have a much better idea of what to eat. There’s no point eating something if it’s not going to bring you joy, after all.

And because no post is complete without some pictures…


Some ramen I made recently.img_20160922_201151

Tonight’s pasta


“Not pesto” no-mayo potato salad

I realise that ‘s a lot of negatives in the description. And I love mayo and have nothing against pesto. But many people don’t like mayo and so would like a no mayo potato salad. And this is only sort-of-pesto-ish (my guests said “tastes like pesto”, if that helps) , so I felt like describing it as “not pesto” but not unlike pesto.

This also comes under the description of things that I have made in my nutribullet that are not at least half green leafy vegetables. OR DOES IT? Do herbs count? There’s a lot of herb in here.

Anyway -instructions!

Bag of small potatoes. Salad potatoes or new potatoes or Jersey Royals if you are feeling fancy and it’s that time of year. Cut them in half and boil them.

Get your cup of your nutribullet or other-brand cup-blender-thing. Give it 1cm of white wine vinegar (cider vinegar would work too) and 2cm of oil (olive oil probably best but no particular need for extra virgin as you’re putting in lots of other flavour). Add a heaped teaspoon of grainy mustard and a good pinch (or 5 grinds) of salt. Crush in 2 cloves of garlic.

Now go to the sad basil plant on your windowsill and give it a haircut. Or if you have a happy basil plant that will work.Snip off the tops of all of the fronds. This is what basil likes, Every stem that you snip will regrow two and your basil will be much bushier. It’s about meristems or something. Trust me, I have a degree in biology. Pre-cut basil is fine too if you don’t want to grow plants or listen to biology lessons.

When you have a good handful of basil, take the leaves off it. You can be rough and ready here, but separating stems and leaves is worth a little bit of effort.

Put the leaves in the cup with the oil and vinegar and stuff and give it a good whizz until it’s quite smooth and green.

Once the potatoes are eatably-soft, drain them and let them cool a bit, then coat them in your green basil-garlic-not-pesto-vinaigrette.

basil potato salad

Best served warm or cool but not hot.

I think this may be accidentally vegan. Which is the best kind of vegan.


In your face, Swiss meringues

I am all-conquering.

I have a variety of whisking machines and I will use them to make you.

Er, sorry, got a bit over-excited there.

You may recall that Swiss meringues tried to kill my food processor, but succeeded only in breaking the drive shaft. Lizard-like, my food processor has grown a new one (I bought it one from espares), but it was clear that this task required a more venerable whisker.

electric hand whisk

Behold, granny’s hand whisk. This machine is definitely older than me. It belonged to my great-grandmother. It can handle anything.

I made the full 115g of egg white this time (4 smallish eggs, if you’re interested) , heated up with 225g sugar (granulated again, I still don’t have caster, I have no particular intention of ever having caster).

Put it in a bowl after the sugar is dissolved but before it starts looking like cooked egg white. Put in headphones and listen to something that will keep you occupied. I chose More or Less from the BBC because I like stats, and telling journalists and politicians that they are wrong.

Whizz it for ages and ages.

upside down meringues

Test if you can turn it upside down.

uncooked purple meringues

Squeeze in some squeezy purple food colouring because FANCY. (Next step actual flavours? Maybe) Blob onto greaseproof paper. Put into an oven that you have already heated to 150C.

Leave in the oven for some amount of time, then turn oven off and leave for some other amount of time.

cooked purple meringues

Look, they actually got bigger! I am all-conquering! etc

swirly purple meringues

Pile ’em up.

Gousto – Korean beef bulgogi

gousto korean beef bulgogi card

Recipe 2 from my recipe box – #1 was here.

gousto korean beef bulgogi ingredients

This is a great recipe for me, as the storecupboard ingredients are all things that I have. Basmati rice – yep (although I usually have brown basmatic), soy sauce and sesame oil – yep (I would put these in nearly everything if I could), garlic and ginger – yep (and I bet you could use the lazy kind in a jar without any problems) and the fresh ingredients are easily available even in just a local/express/little/metro supermarket.

gousto korean beef bulgogi recipe

Exact measurements are given for the amount of water to use with the rice. People go on about making “perfect rice” and how difficult it is. In most situations I just treat rice like pasta and it is FINE. Boil it in lots of water, drain off the excess. The absorption method is good if you can be bothered but for just normal rice like this I don’t think it matters, If we had sticky rice (and I think this recipe would be great with sticky rice) it might be more important.

There’s more “mushing about with hands”, as there was with the meatballs, but this time there’s a bit of chopping.grating to do. Not a lot though.

Frying the beef, there was a lot of liquid in my pan and I felt that it didn’t need the extra oil for frying, and that maybe I could have left some of the soy sauce out of the mixture for pouring on top later. After 4 minutes the beef was still sitting in liquid, and it went from “wet” to “kinda burnt underneath” very quickly. I have a lovely new nonstick pan that I highly recommend for this kind of situation

korean beef bulgogi result

Tasty. Apple in the beef makes it nice and moist. If I were doing this again I think I would:

  • Use sticky rice
  • Use less soy sauce in the meat mixture and have some on the side
  • Pay attention to the meat – don’t think because it’s wet right now that you can look at something else for a minute
  • Add chilli (because I love chilli)

chilli in window

Here’s a happy chilli in my window

Gousto – Perfect picnic spelt and lamb meatballs

Another fresh-meal box to try out, this time Gousto courtesy of my friend Helen – if you want to use her code to get £25 off your first box (meaning I got a box of 3 meals for 2 people for a tenner) then here’s the code.

The Yodel courier decided to leave the box at the reception of my building rather than outside my door as requested, so all the ingredients were out of the fridge for well over 24 hours, but the chilled stuff still felt cold to the touch and I think it won’t kill me.

Delivery was on the 5th (and it was the 6th by the time I got hold of it) and all of the meats have dates of the 9th. Not ideal as I’d like to be able to order a box for a week and then use all through that week.

gousto lamb meatball card

I dislike the use of “perfect” in the title – just tell me what we’re making, don’t overload it with adjectives. I’ll decide if it’s perfect thanks very much. I do appreciate the “picnic” suggestion. It’d be good to have some tips on serving cold or storing/transporting, if we were really going to have this at a picnic.

gousto lamb meatball recipe

I liked the step by step pictures on the card – good for if you are unsure as to how finely to chop things.

gousto lamb meatball ingredients

There are a lot of ingredients here, but the instruction for most of them is “mush together with your hands to make meatballs”. The instructions said to make 6 meatballs – I made 8 and if you are planning to have this as an actual picnic I’d recommend making a larger number of smaller balls.

I don’t know if spelt is tricky to get hold of, but if it is then bulgur wheat or pearl barley or even couscous would be just fine.

The sumac is the only one of the spices/flavourings that I don’t usually keep in stock, and it does make a difference. I guess you could use a bit of lemon juice in the meatballs and then paprika to get a red sprinkle.

gousto lamb meatballs with spelt

Not too tricky to make, not too much washing up (just one pan on the hob and one in the oven), not too much time or effort.

I am not always keen on fruit+meat combinations, but in this case the cranberries in the meatballs added a nice chewyness and were sweet without feeling wrong.

Swiss meringues (AKA those massive ones)

You know, those massive ones with the swirls in that you get at bakeries.

I am OK at making regular meringues (that I now know to be “French”), but I wanted something a bit more solid. I have been told that they are Swiss meringues. OK then. I think I remember a challenge on Great British Bake Off that involved two kinds of meringue, an Apparently Swiss meringues are the most stable before cooking, which sounds like a good recommendation to me.

The recipe I’m using is by Dan Lepard, who I had not heard of before but if this works I’ll definitely count myself a fan. His recipe was for 115g of egg white and 225g of sugar, but I wanted to make “two eggs worth”, so I weighed the whites and came up with 125g of sugar. #Maths. He also said that you should use caster sugar but I really don’t see the point, especially if you are dissolving it anyway, so I used granulated because that’s what I had.

So: Put oven on at 150C. Put boiling water in a pan on the hob, turn on heat to get it simmering. Put egg whites and sugar in pan and stir a bit til it all seems hot and melted/dissolved. Now you want to whisk the egg/sugar mixture for ages and ages while it cools down. The recipe says 15 minutes. Anyone who has tried to make bread and “knead for 10 minutes” knows that’s a very long time. If you have nothing electric that can whisk do not even attempt this unless you are very strong and have a very high boredom threshold. A Kitchenaid type thing would be great for this (Dan says to use the metal bowl, if you have one). I used the machine below.

meringues in mixer

I do not recommend using this kind of machine to make this kind of meringue. The mixture got very stiff, the whisk no longer moved, and I ended up breaking my drive shaft. Whoops. Espares have lots of spare parts and also do next-day delivery, useful if you find yourself in this kind of predicament.

broken drive shaft

I decided to proceed anyway… I blobbed the mixture onto greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Put into oven, turn oven down to 130C. If you’ve made the right amount (115g egg, 225g sugar), you should have 12  meringues and should cook them for 45 mins, then turn off the oven and leave them in while the oven cools down.

uncooked meringue

They expand a bit in the oven but not a lot

cooked swiss meringues

Here they are – very tasty and crisp with a hole in the middle.

I will be making these again, and next time I’m going to attempt doing some colourful swirls. I’ll also use ,my electric hand mixer with the whisk attachment and hope that it doesn’t break…

Hello Fresh Jamie Oliver Chicken Stir Fry (without broccoli)

The third recipe from my Hello Fresh box. One was here. The second here.

I’ll admit that the changes I had to make here were partially my fault. I knew that I would be eating out a few days this week, so I checked the dates on the meat/fish part and made them in the order of how long they would last. I just forgot to check how long a head of broccoli lasts without going a bit weird and yellow.

However, for a service aimed at people who are busy, that’s delivered once a week, I don’t think I was unreasonable to expect ingredients that were delivered on the Sunday to be OK on the following Saturday (within the week). Perhaps Hello Fresh should pack up the ingredients for each recipe together and label with things like “if eating with 3 days keep me at room temp, if not you might want to fridge me”.

Hello Fresh Jamie Oliver stirfry card

So this recipe was supposed to have broccoli, and instead I used sugarsnap peas. Because I had some in the fridge. If I hadn’t I would have been rather disappointed. As it was this recipe was FINE, but not very exciting or novel.

Hello Fresh Jamie Oliver stirfry recipe

As with the pork belly stew, there was not a lot of meat here. Unlike the risotto, I did not think that the carb portions were noticeably generous. I’d normally allow 75-100g of pasta per person, and here we had 125g of noodles between two.

Hello Fresh Jamie Oliver ingredients

There was a lot of chopping to do here. The recipe instructed me to do all the chopping before starting. I understand that this is aimed at people who don’t cook a lot (hence my previous comments on expecting me to have the equipment to zest a lemon) but telling me to chop everything beforehand seemed unnecessary. I could do some of the chopping while the noodles were boiling.

Hello Fresh chopped things

I normally like Jamie Oliver recipes, and I like the co-branding. These two things do go together. However I was not convinced by the instructions on how long to cook the vegetables for. Very few people can slice carrots finely enough that this much stir-frying would result in them being anything other than very hard and crunchy.

Hello Fresh Jamie Oliver stirfry

This was a pleasant dinner, and I liked the fish sauce on the noodles, but I don’t feel as if I learned or discovered anything. Apart from “meat is not the only thing that might go off after 6 days”.