Monday 25 April 2016

Chocolate & Raspberry Roulade

This was the dessert I served at my recent Saturday night Slimming World friendly dinner with friends.

It actually wasn't unlike something that I would normally have served, just with a few tweaks, which made for a 3.5 Syn per portion dessert, which was just what I was looking for.

Don't feel that you have to use raspberries, I have made this roulade four times now and, as well as raspberries, I've tried it with cherries, strawberries and blueberries, all equally as nice.

It's definitely a dessert that can be made ahead, which is always a bonus as far as I'm concerned so here goes with the recipe ...

Serves - 6
Ready in - about 50 minutes

For the cake:
Fry light
6 medium eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
2 tbsp artificial sweetener
2 level tbsp coca powder, reserving a little for dusting

For the filling:
125g Muller light vanilla yoghurt
250g Quark
Few drops vanilla extract
1 tbsp artificial sweetener
200g fresh berries, plus extra to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a swiss roll tin with baking paper and lightly spray with Fry light.

Whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar and sweetener in a large bowl until pale and thick.  Fold in the cocoa powder, using a large metal spoon.  Don't forget to reserve a little for dusting. I find half a teaspoon is plenty to give a good dusting.

Put the egg whites into another large bowl and whisk until the stand up in stiff peaks.

Fold the whisked egg whites into the cocoa mixture, using a large metal spoon.  Pour the mixture into the Swiss roll tin and bake in the centre of the over for 15-18 minutes, until springy to the touch. Allow to cool in the tin.

Meanwhile, make up the filling.  Put the yoghurt, Quark, vanilla extract and sweetener into another bowl and whisk until smooth.

To assemble the roulade, turn out the cooked cake onto a sheet of baking paper.  Spread with the filling, dot with berries and roll up lengthways, using the baking paper to help you.

Carefully ease onto a serving plate and dust with the reserved cocoa powder.  Slice into 6 and serve with the extra berries.

This was a really light, but tasty, dessert.  Just the job to finish off a nice 3 course meal.  Also nice with a cup of tea, or a glass of wine, in the garden on a sunny afternoon ... well, there's always leftovers!

Sorry, there's not that many photos ... Martin doesn't like having meal preparation interrupted with photography when we've got guests and I have to let him have his way some times!

Deconstructed Beef Wellingtons

If you're looking for a tasty treat for a special dinner, with some good visual appeal, these deconstructed Beef Wellingtons really hit the spot.

I recently served these as the main course for a Saturday night meal with friends and they were easy to make and they went down a real treat.

From a Slimming World point of view, it's a great recipe for sticking to your eating plan, without feeling like you're being deprived, just what we need over here!

The recipe serves 4 and takes about an hour to prepare and have ready to serve. Each serving has just 2.5 Syns, so just the job for feeling you're having a treat, without breaking the bank.

250g chestnut mushroom, finely chopped
6 shallots, finely chopped
A small handful of fresh tarragon and parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
57g Sainsbury's ready rolled light puff pastry
300ml beef stock
1 tbsp Bovril
4 thick beef fillet steaks, all visible fat removed

Preheat your oven to 200C

Transfer the chopped mushrooms and shallots to a frying pan sprayed with Frylight and stir-fry over a high heat for 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated.  Remove from the heat, stir in the herbs and season well. Set aside until needed.  I made up this mixture ahead of time and then just re-heated when I was ready to serve.

Divide the pastry into four portions and roll into a 9cm diameter circle and place on a non-stick baking tray.  It doesn't have to be a circle, if you've got some fancy cutters, then feel free to give them an airing. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden.

Meanwhile, bring the stock and the Bovril to boil in a pan.  Reduce the heat and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced and thickened.  I made this up ahead of time too.

Season the steaks and spray with Frylight.  Cook in a hot non-stick frying pan until they are the way you like them.

Divide the mushroom mixture between four plates, top with a steak and a pastry lid and drizzle over the gravy.

I served the Wellingtons with a Syn free two potato Dauphinnoise and a selection of steamed vegetables.

It was really tasty, I didn't miss the full pastry wrap and the 'jus' was lovely.  If this tastes a bit strong then you can sweeten up with a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly, but don't forget to add in the Syn value.

Mediterranean Fish Cakes

You don't have to be following the Slimming World diet to enjoy these tasty fish cakes, which are really simple to make.

If you are following the Slimming World diet, then you'll be pleased to hear that these are totally Syn free, so fill your boots.

I served these as a starter at our recent Saturday night get together meal with friends and they went down a real treat.

As an added bonus, the mixture can be made up well ahead of time and stored in the fridge until needed, giving you chance to have a good old tidy up before you start cooking.

It should take about 40 minutes to prepare and cook this dish, which serves 4 and makes 20 fishcakes.

300g skinless and boneless cod fillet
400g shelled raw prawns
4 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 red chilli, roughly chopped
1cm piece root ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
small handful of fresh dill, plus extra to garnish
1 tbsp grated lemon zest plus wedges to serve
2 tbsp capers, drained
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Low calorie cooking spray

Place the cod, prawns, spring onions, chilli, ginger, garlic, dill, lemon zest and capers into a food processor, season well and process until fairly smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and, using wet hands, shape evenly into 20 fishcakes.

Spray a large based frying pan with low calorie cooking spray and add the fishcakes.  Fry for 5-10 minutes on each side until golden brown, making sure all are cooked right through.

Garnish with dill and serve as a starter with a green leafy salad and lemon wedges.  You can also serve with a selection of dips, but don't forget, if your're following the SW diet, you will need to add any additional Syn value.

I think these fishcakes would also make a great weeknight tea, adding sweet potato fries.

Dinner Party ... A la SW!!

Well, Martin and I are still on our Slimming World journey and all is going pretty much OK.

We are finding lots of really nice things we can eat plenty of and have only fallen foul when we've had meals out or the odd extra treat here and there.

Last weekend it was our turn to host our good friends, Jackie & Phil, for a regular Saturday night get together and we wondered whether we would be able to pull together a meal that meant we could stay on plan, but didn't leave us feeling disappointed or underwhelmed with what we'd served.  After all, typically these events usually involve lots of butter and double cream, in addition to copious amounts of alcolhol!!

I spent a good while scouring the recipe books and the Internet and managed to come up with a menu that I thought would fit the bill.

I decided that we would start off with Mediterranean Fish Cakes, which are totally Slimming World friendly, being completely Syn free (for the benefit of the uninitiated, this means you can eat as much of these as you like).  These were to be served with some green salad and a choice of either a lemon mayonnaise or sweet chilli dips.  The dips weren't Slimming World friendly, but I didn't feel too bad about that.

These were so easy to make and, bonus, you can make up ahead of schedule and get all the yucky clearing up done before your guests arrive.

You just chuck all of the ingredients into the food processor, hit the button and turn the mixture into mush.  You then shape it into small fish cakes and you can either grill or fry them.  The mixture comes out quite firm so it is really easy to work with.

With all of the prep done ahead, all that was left to do when our guests arrived, was to fry them off, which didn't take very long at all.

I served us three of these each, with the salad and they were absolutely scrummy.  They were really light and, to me, they were more of a Thai flavour than Mediterranean, but what do I know?

Main Course
The main course was to be a take on an old favourite ... Beef Wellington, served with two potato dauphinnoise, cauliflower, green beans and carrots. This dish wasn't entirely Syn free, but with only 2.5 Syns per portion, it didn't totally break the bank, so it seemed to hit the spot.

The Wellington is served in a pretty much deconstructed state, with a nicely cooked fillet steak served on a bed of mushroom duxelle, topped with a disc of lighter puff pastry, we cut ours out in heart shapes.

The dauphinnoise is totally Syn free and is made up of a mixture of both sweet and white potatoes, with a sauce made predominantly of our new favourite ingredient, Quark.

Again, lots of the prep can be done ahead and we were just really left with the steaks to fry, whilst the dauphinnoise finished off in the oven and the veg did in the steamer.

It looked really nice on the plate and the Wellington was gorgeous. Sometimes having the whole thing wrapped in pastry can be just a bit too much and, with just having the pastry topper, there was no sign of any soggy bottom.

To finish off with I did a Chocolate and raspberry roulade.  Again not totally Syn free, each portion has 3.5, but then you do have to have some treats.

The 'sponge' is predominantly made up as a meringue and the filling is a combination of Quark and vanilla yoghurt, which is a really good substitution for either fresh cream or, another favourite, mascarpone.

All can be made ahead, so all that is left to do, when you are ready for dessert, is to whip it out of the fridge, say Ta-Dah, though mine did actually look just a little bit flat (it didn't affect the taste though), and cut everyone a slice.

 So, we managed to serve a really nice, filling and tasty, three course meal, with just 6 Syns per person (again, for the uninitiated, you should have between 5 and 15 per day), so well within the treat budget!

We all really enjoyed all that we had, plates were pretty much cleaned up and we all felt like we'd had plenty.  It was hard to believe that we'd managed to have such a lovely meal, all on plan .....

... oh yeah, then there was the alcohol, but we can just skim over that can't we?

After all, we are friends.

I will try and post the three recipes separately over the course of the next week or so, just in case you fancy giving any of them a go.

Thanks for reading.

Monday 18 April 2016

The Last of my Easter Ramblings ...

This year Martin's birthday fell in Easter week, so we decided not to do our usual week away but to have a week at home.

We certainly weren't stuck for things to do. We had a long list of jobs to do, people to catch up with and places to go.

Though the weather forecast for the week was pretty grim, we ended up being really lucky and were treated to some lovely Spring sunshine on Good Friday, which was a great start and we managed to get out and about a bit whilst catching up on some maintenance of our own Geocaches.

We did some repairs and replacements of some of our caches by a couple of really pretty local churches and along the canal, where signs of Spring were starting to make their appearance.

The churchyards were full of daffs and primulas in full bloom and wild flowers were aplenty along the canal side. 
Crops are just starting to appear in their regimented rows and these lovely ladies were all having a good munch In the sunshine
Saturday and Sunday the weather was a bit more mixed but we managed to get out and do a bit more cache maintenance, as well as knocking out a batch of Dad's tomato soup and doing some seed planting and potting on.
Easter Monday we had a big day out at Foxton Locks, meeting up with family we hadn't seen for far too long.

Tuesday was Martin's 55th birthday and I know it sounds awfully mean but we spent most of the day doing some serious spring cleaning before meeting up with more friends for a curry ... The diet has certainly taken a battering this week.

Wednesday was glorious but we didn't really make the most of the weather. We just spent the day hanging round the house, before heading out to the symphony hall in Birmingham to see Collabro, Martin's birthday treat.

The rest of the week was spent doing some gentle pottering, managing to pull in our first real bike ride for far too long ...
A bit of crafting ...
And an even smaller bit of gardening, though we are really pleased with this pot we've planted up of snakeshead fritillery and ferns.  Hopefully another maintenance free pot, which will give us Spring colour for years to come.
The week came to an end far too soon and Martin headed back into work on Monday.  We're already looking forward to our next break when we'll be off to the Yorkshire coast to stay in what looks like a really nice cottage, which I'm sure you'll be able to read more about soon.

Monday 11 April 2016

Collabro at The Symphony Hall

A few weeks ago there was nothing much on TV and we just happened to unintentionally stumble across a programme on Sky Arts where Collabro were supporting Katherine Jenkins. 

'Collab-who' we thought.

Although we had heard of the name, not being watchers of Britain's Got Talent, we didn't really know who Collabro were. We didn't really have any intention of sticking with the programme, but they were so good we just couldn't stop watching.

Matin's birthday was a couple of weeks later and I had been struggling for ideas as to what to get him and thought I'd just have a look to see if they were touring anywhere later in the year.

Well, I hit jackpot. Martin's birthday was 29 March and he was off work that week. I was dead excited to find that not only were Collabro touring, they were in Birmingham, at the Symphony Hall on 30 March.

Quick as you like I snapped up two tickets for about four rows back in the stalls, and even better, end seats, so Martin could have plenty of leg stretching room.

Before we knew it the 30th arrived and we were both really looking forward to a night out listening to some good music. We headed into Brum nice and early and had chance to have a nice wander around in the evening sunshine, it was just lovely.

We had a really good look at the new library, which neither of us had seen before, and managed to take some really good photos.  We will definitely be back to explore this when it is fully open.
Before long it was time to head into The Symphony Hall to take our seats which were just fab.
The show started with the support act, AJ Brown, someone we'd not heard of but was a good start to the show.  In the main he sang songs that he had written himself and all were pretty upbeat.
It wasn't long before it was time for the main event and the excitement in the Symphony Hall was palpable. The small orchestra took their seats, began to play and Collabro rose up from below the stage, through the mist, to huge applause.  Their Act II show started off with a brilliant rendition of The Circle of Life.
We were hooked already, it was going to be a great show.

The rest of the show didn't disappoint.  There was a real mixture of numbers from both musical theatre and popular chart covers, there was nothing that we weren't familiar with.  It's hard to pick out our favourites, but we did particularly enjoy Somewhere, Memories and the Phantom of the Opera medley.

There were lots of little stories about the group, the history of the songs they were singing and why they had chosen them for this tour.  They really connected well,with the audience, who were hanging on every word. 

They even took a selfie with the audience, which Martin is actually in, as well as posing to let the audience to take photos, though with low level light, no flash and them not standing still for very long, my efforts are a bit disappointing.

The whole show was really polished.  It was almost a real treat when they made a couple of mistakes in the links, as it just made them seem a little less than perfect.  There was a great atmosphere and the crowd clearly loved the boys and there were some serious fans in the audience.
Special guest. soprano Catriona Murray, was really impressive and the Phantom of the Opera medley towards the end of the show was seriously powerful.  We were enthralled.
Before we knew it we were at the final number. We had thoroughly enjoyed the whole of the show, which ended with the boys performing 'Stars', the number they performed right at the beginning of their journey, 2 years ago in their Britain's Got Talent audition.

Although this is the first time that we have seen Collabro, I have a feeling that it might not be the last.

Monday 4 April 2016

Easter Monday at Foxton Locks

We had a very rare big day out planned for Bank Holiday Monday.  We were meeting up with my cousin, her husband and their eldest daughter, for a catch up that was way too long overdue.

We had decided that somewhere near to Market Harborough was about our half way point and and a good place to meet. We ended up deciding on Foxton Locks, which would give us chance for a bit of a wander and a nice lunch.

We didn't expect much from the weather, with Storm Katie having been around in full force, but ended up being very lucky and, though it was biting cold, the rain did pretty much hold off.

We arrived mid morning and were surprised to find the place was pretty deserted. It was actually really nice to be able to wander around in the relative peace and quiet.

We started with a wander along to the old boat lifts, the like of which neither Martin or I had seen before. When in working order the lifts enabled the canal barges to make their way from the bottom level of the locks to the top, without having to negotiate the flight of 10 locks.

It was fascinating to see and read about and we can only imagine how this would have looked back in the day.
We made our way back to the bottom of the locks and pondered the imagination and ingenuity of the engineers who first came up with the idea of how to move the canal barges from one level to another, to save making the canal detour around hills and valleys. 
The view looking up the flight of locks was a pretty impressive sight and I took loads of photos. We took a slow amble up top the top and were lucky enough to see boats travelling in both directions, both up and down the locks.
I don't know how many times we have seen canal barges negotiate canal locks but it's one of those things that we just have to stop and watch every time we get the chance and today was no different.

From the top we started to make our way back down. 

One of the lock keepers recommended we take a bit of a detour off track to a viewing point at the top of the old boat lifts, where we could get a better idea of how these would have actually worked, so we followed his advice and were glad we did.

The viewing point also gave great views across the flight of locks, where more photos were taken of more boats making their way down.

From here we rejoined the canal and made our way to the pub. just in time for lunch, which was a real treat.
After a very nice lunch and a good old catch up we had another quick walk back along the locks, which were now pretty busy, before heading back to the car and home.

Foxton Locks is definitely worth a trip out for a leisurely afternoon. It was really interesting with plenty to see and do. We would definitely recommend it.

It seems ages since we've been out to look at something new, different and exciting, we need to do it more often. There is so much out there to see and do. It would take more than a lifetime to cover it all. At our age we need to get cracking!!

It's also been far too long since we've met up with these lovely people, another thing we must make the effort to do more of. 
Thanks Sue, Ken and Katie for a lovely day.