Watching the weight comfort food

A few weeks ago Vanessa Kimbell of Prepped! fame, tweeted about the idea of a gourmands diet and within a few hours she had gathered together a team of foodies all with a want to lose a few pounds. I so wanted to join in, a delicious diet no less, and would have done so, but dieting and breastfeeding do not go together and I couldn’t compromise Baby’s G growth for the sakes of a few pounds.

I did decide however to try and introduce some healthier meals into our eating regime, not only to benefit my waistline but also to increase my intake of fruit and vegetables. July had been a month of foodie extravagance with lots of dining out for birthdays and a post baby treat of a meal at Loves with fellow foodie Jo of Jo’s Kitchen (we will review soon on the Midlands Food Bloggers community blog!) so we decided that August would be a “eat healthy” month in the aim to kickstart a better lifestyle change before winter comes along and all I crave is comfort food. I also had in mind that as Baby G is about to embark upon her own eating regime I need to lead by example right?

The changes me and hubs agreed to are:

  • no takeaways
  • eat more vegetables and fruit – try for the 5-a-day at least.
  • eat less sweet treats, including resisting the co-op Truly irresistible Chocolate cookies, something I got addicted to .
  • no fast food restaurants.
  • no drinking during the week, and only a glass of wine or two at

Now the first 2 weeks of August we began with good intentions but with more birthdays and Baby G’s naming day and a lot of party food left over we have admitted defeat. This week we set to start again on our Delicious Diet.

So I dug out my Weightwatchers Pure Points Cookbook – not something I would normally buy but it was picked up from a charity shop for a £1 – and tried to find something that would satisfy my urge for a homely comforting dish without all the calories. I spotted a recipe for a cottage pie and decided to give it a go.

Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie350g extra-lean minced beef
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed,
1 red pepper, de-seeded and diced
250g mushrooms, diced
1 tsp ground cumin
425ml beef stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
225g carrots, peeled and diced
450g potatoes, peeled and diced
3 tbsp half fat crème fraîche
salt and pepper

Dry fry the mince in a non-stick pan until browned and crumbly. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper, mushrooms and cumin, stir and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the stock and the tomato puree. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring pan of slightly salted water to the boil and cook the potatoes and carrots until tender. Drain and mash well with the crème fraîche and seasoning.
Spoon the mince misture into an ovenproof dish, spread the mashed vegetables over the top and back for 25 minutes.

Cottage Pie

I understand the need to reduce the meat to make it less calorific but not sure I am fully on board with the addition of red pepper, I think next time I will be adding more mushroom and onion and omit the pepper. I liked the gentle spicing and flavour of tomato, and was quite happy with the mash topping, but hubs said it wasn’t a proper cottage pie as the beef mix did not taste meaty enough.

It was good for an alternative to a family favourite though and I’m sure we will continue to use this recipe where we want comfort but without the calories.

Hasta la proxima / until next time

Mexican Made Simple

I am an avid watcher of Masterchef and can’t wait for it to return to our screens next week (BBC 1, Wednesday 16th February, 9.00pm).


The first series in the current format, aired in 2005, was won by Thomasina Miers, who has since gone on to write cook books, open restaurants and film a few cooking tv programmes.  I have followed her career with interest since Masterchef as a fellow “spanglofile” and absolutely loved her “Cook’s Tour of Spain”, as predictable as that was!

In December 2009, on my first trip to London in many years I had Wahaca, the chain of Mexican cantina restaurants opened by Thomasina, top of the list to visit, and enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the Covent Garden establishment.

When I heard that there was a book to be published “Mexican Food Made Simple” it was ordered immediately. Released last year and with a tv show to follow this May on Channel 5, it has been a firm favourite in this household during the past few months.

The book has a good introduction to give you some insight into Thomasina’s love of the country and it’s food, followed by an overview of the key ingredients to make authentic Mexican cuisine accessible to everyone. There is a wide range of recipes included in the book with 11 chapters covering everything from sauces and salsas and nibbles to soups and salads. Main’s are categorised between street food, cheesy things, slow cooked mains, from the grill, or soul food, and there is a selection of puddings and drinks.

The first recipe I cooked first from this book has become a firm favourite in our household. The strange thing is that it’s not a Mexican dish but one that is frequently associated with the cuisine – Chile Con Carne.

Easy, Speedy Chile Con Carne

1kg stewing steak cut into large pieces (4-5)
3 onions
4 cloves of garlic
olive oil
300g spicy cooking chorizo
2 tsp ground cumin
2tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cloves
1 large cinammon stick
3 bay leaves
2 tsp dried oregano (3 tbsp fresh)
2 ancho chillies – or I have used 1 large one
2 chiles de arbol
2 tsp sea salt
black pepper
3 tbsp cider or balsamic vinegar
2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
2 x 400g tins borlotti beans

Pulse in a food processor or chop very finely the onions and garlic. Heat 2tbsp of olive oil in a pan and sear the meat on all sides. Set to one side and another glug of oil to brown the chorizo. Remove and add the onion and garlic, spices, herbs and chillies and cook until soft. Season with salt and pepper and add vinegar tomatoes, ketchup and sugar.

Put all the meat back in and add 400ml of water (or red wine if you prefer) bring to a simmer and cook in a low oven for 2 hours. Add the beans and cook for a further hour. Alternatively as I did, put the mix into the slow cooker on a medium heat for 5 hours, and added the beans for a further hour. It’s ready when the meat falls apart when pulled with a pair of forks.

Depending on the acidity of the tinned tomatoes you made need to add a little extra sugar as I did.

Now I always thought I made a mean Chile Con Carne, and had happily fed friends and family my faithful recipe until I tasted this one. The addition of the range of other spices and the vinegar and sugar creates a taste-bud exploding experience that no chilli I’ve ever had before delivers.

I’ve made it without the chorizo and it’s still good. I’ve made it with minced beef and it’s still good.  In this one I added one tin of borlotti beans and one tin of kidney beans. We had it served with simple boiled rice (eaten and devoured before a picture was taken, oops!) and it tasted even better the next day with a jacket potato.

So thanks to Thomasina for revamping a family favourite of ours, I will never go back to my original recipe now. This is so easy to do and hits all the right spots.

I’ve also tried a few other recipes from the book, and even did a Mexican Dinner Party for 8 with a selection of dishes which went down a storm.


Tortillas with Squash and Chorizo – simple but so tasty


Tamarind and Chilli Infused Belly of Pork – a melt in the mouth roast pork with a rich tangy gravy.

Chicken Adobado – chicken pieces marinated in a smoky and sweet sauce.


Fresh Tomato Salsa – fresh and fiery, perfect with some tortillas.

Guacamole – with and without coriander as hubby doesn’t do coriander

Frijoles refritos – refried beans, made at home these taste so much better than any shop bought equivalent. Definitely worth the effort.

With 7 other hungry mouths to feed there was no opportunity to take photo’s of the finished dishes but here’s the pork before it’s marinated and after. That colour change signifies a lot of flavour.

Pork Belly Pork Belly

There are lots of other recipes that I have earmarked and from those I’ve tried and tasted so far I’m sure this will continue to be a well used book from my cookbook collection.

The recipes do include a few Mexican ingredients which may not be readily available from your local supermarket but there is a handy suppliers page at the back of the book which gives you a large selection of shops and online stores to buy from. My chillies were sourced from Mexgrocer who I can’t fault for service or quality of product. The main effort before trying some of the recipes is to make the Chipotles en Adobo, a chilli puree that is added to some of the dishes, but once made it keeps for months.

If you want to get a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine, and aren’t able to pop into Wahaca for a meal, then this is most definitely the way to do it. A practical, well written and inspiring book.
Mexican Food Made Simple, published by Hodder & Stoughton