Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Hayley's Life Lessons: Pizza Cutting

Yes my dears, I am binge-blogging again. no posts for ages, then a deluge of insights into the inside of my head. 

So I'm thinking I'm going to start a new mini series of posts on this here humble blog: Hayley's Life Lessons aka Things Most People Have Known Already For Years But I Have Just Learnt Recently Because I Am A Simple Dog. I think it might even need it's own logo or something. I'll do that sometime, honest. 

These sorts of posts will wildly veer between the mundane and useless to the life changing and hugely important. Alternatively, I'll forget that i ever started this mini series after 2 posts and that will be that.

Anyway, this first post is one of the most amazing, life changing tips I have ever come across in my entire life. 

Have you just cooked a pizza? About to use an unwieldy knife or an always disappointing pizza roller thingy? STOP!!! Think again! Get back to the drawer and instead pick up the scissors.

That's right- the subject of today's revelation is cutting pizza with scissors. Much more accurate and ridiculously easy, this concept had never, ever occurred to me before but the part of my life devoted to the cutting of pizzas has become so much better because of it. 

Just in case you were wondering what scissors actually look like.
Of course, you'll note my utter selflessness in telling you this knowledge when I have been banished to the realms of diet food from now on. No gooey, cheesy, doughy goodness for me. Now off you go, good people, and enjoy all of that time you're now going to save.

In which I attempt to lose weight

I am, as a twitter friend put it so poetically "built for comfort not for speed". 

I have zero willpower, am useless at being organised, and lazy. All of which adds together to mean i usually end up eating crap most of the time. This situation isn't particularly helped by my sedentary office job.

I did get down to a nice weight a few years ago. at this time i was working in a really stressful job in community pharmacy- always on my feet and never with any time to eat. I ended up just eating one meal a day (obviously neither healthy nor sustainable), and in addition to that i was going to the gym three times a week. Now, I sit on my ample backside amongst a plentiful supply of biscuits every day.

I've been going to the gym a bit more often, and doing my kettlebells, but i thought it was time to really do something about my useless eating habits.

Ages ago, I went on slimming world. While I really enjoyed the food, I found it really difficult to prepare everything from scratch along with working full time and everything else in my life. This definitely isn't an option for me now as i do so many locum shifts and travelling (not to mention being a social butterfly =D) that i just wouldn't be able to stick to it. 

So I've taken the plunge and gone for Diet Chef. This is a scheme where all of your meals are delivered to you on a monthly basis, so you don't really need to think about preparation. I've gone for the 4 monthly option as it's cheaper and according to their website i need to lose 2 stones, which is likely to take a LONG time. You then need to buy your fresh fruit and veg to have alongside the meals, which are stored at ambient temperature so great for at work or on the go. 

I did do a week's trial of Diet Chef back in January, and i was actually pleasantly surprised by the food,which was tasty and quite filling. I particularly enjoyed the breakfasts, which were yummy porridges or granolas or mueslis. I thought i'd show you a couple of pictures of the evening meals i've been having to prove that you actually do get quite a bit for each meal, once you added the veg.

I'll probably be having most weekends off from Diet Chef as i'll be gallivanting in London or the boyf will be here, and i'm not convinced that Private Pie club or Clandestine Cake Club, or a peanut butter addiction will fit into the new regime particularly brilliantly, but i know that i'm much more likely to be successful if i'm fairly relaxed with the rules.

Diet Chef sausages in gravy, with mash (probably more than the regulation amount but really, who cares) and herby balsamic runner beans
What i'm really enjoying is actually bothering to make vegetables- something that i must admit i was absolutely terrible at before. I'm not bothering to weigh accompaniments or veg that i'm having at this point in the diet- i figure whatever i'm having now is still much better than what i was eating before.

Diet Chef pasta carbonara with chinese leaf lettuce and sesame soy shallots and runner beans
I lost 4lbs in the first week- hardly life-changing, but a tiny win nonetheless. Just in case anyone wants to give it a try (NOT that i am saying that any of you need to, you understand), just type in this discount voucher code:

And you'll get a tenner off any orders over £190. Better than a kick in the teeth, eh? Wish me luck with my *hopefully* slow but steady weight loss. I'll keep you guys posted on how it goes, without being too boring.

Apple Streusel Cake

I'm a lazy, lazy person. Occasionally, I like to have very lazy days where i barely leave the house (I don't think a trip to the bins is classed as an expedition these days, especially when the bins are about 2 metres away from your flat). Usually on these days i am suffering from that most terrible of ailments The Hangover.

One thing i do like to do on these days, except for watching full DVD box sets of Dexter or House MD, is to bake. So then I have to attempt to find something to bake for which i already have all of the ingredients in the house.

So, the other week I had some cooking apples left over from the toffee apple cider pie I made for Private Pie Club (I will post about this sometime soon). I also had some pecans and bits and pieces leftover from the not-so-vegan-vegan-tart, so i decided to make an apple cake.

Of course, good old BBC Good Food obliged me with a recipe, and a-baking i went.

The result:

Apparently I have a lop-sided cake tin :-S

It looks pretty rustic, and it collapsed a bit in the middle, but it smelt of spicy appley goodness. To be honest, I've no idea how it tastes as it's now all wrapped up in freezer awaiting a last minute cake emergency situation.

Hayley's Little Helper

No, for once I don't mean gin.

I adore baking, I really do. It's calming, relaxing and very satisfying. There is one aspect to baking though that I really can't be bothered with.

Lining The Cake Tins.

This dreaded task, which requires geometry, patience, and construction skill, really does my head in. I recently ran out of my supply of My Little Helper, but now i can breathe a sigh of relief that i have more in my possession:

And so, with only a few pounds whisked out of my bank account, my life has just become easier. You can buy these great little cake tin liners from Lakeland and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

NB: Lakeland!!! Look at meeee!!! See how i am recommending your products to my lovely followers! Give me free stuff! Pretty PLEASE!!!!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

A not even vegetarian vegan tart.

I am a staunch meat eater through and through. And, probably partly due to my job, i'm highly suspicious of new age faddy diet sort of stuff, like raw food diets.

So imagine my surprise when i found myself making a raw, vegan chocolate tart one evening.

What on earth happened there?! Well, I happened to have the TV on while i was doing an online food shop the other week, and it was Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's vegetable programme that happened to be on at the time. In this episode, he went to visit a raw vegan food place, where a raw chocolate ganache tart was made. It actually seemed quite intriguing, and i was interested in how it would all work, and taste. Apparently, as no baking is going on, you don't have to be as exact about quantities, and a lot of the process involves senses rather than times etc. So, before I knew it, I had looked up the recipe and was buying all the ingredients I needed. I am a sucker for trying new types of foods and playing about with ingredients i've never heard of before. I mean, what on earth is agave nectar?

Well, I say all the ingredients. It turns out that Asda don't do coconut oil. Undeterred, I did a quick google scan to see what i could use as an equivalent. One website recommended a mixture of butter and lard, and in a few clicks it was ordered. I know I can hear you all screaming at me about using lard. I am a total ignorant philistine, and to be honest, it totally never even occurred to me that not only is it not vegan, IT'S NOT EVEN VEGETARIAN. What can I say, except for that I am a total and utter retard at times.

Making the tart was pretty easy. The base is a mixture of pecans and dates, whizzed together in a food processor until they turn into a nice pastry sort of texture. I think i may have whizzed them for a bit longer than i should have, as the pecans started to release oil. However, the "pastry" texture was still good, so i went ahead and pressed it into the tin. "What's this?" I thought, staring at my hands, which were covered in a delicious smelling sheen. "Why i appear to have made a lovely hand and nail oil as a side effect". The pecan oil was really moisturizing, and smelt lovely.

The hardest part of making the filling was that the only night i could make the tart was before the avocadoes had had a chance to ripen properly, so it was a bit of a struggle to prepare them. I was a bit worried that the texture of the filling was a bit too lumpy because of the unripe avocadoes, but it turned out that this didn't make a difference in the finished product.

Licking the spoon after putting the filling totally blew me away. I was expecting a bland, blah sort of a taste, but it was rich, creamy and very delicious- a total show stopper. Into the fridge it went, where it sat there overnight awaiting its fate at my workplace the next day.

After I unwrapped it, and undid the springform tin, my cynical head said that the whole thing would fall apart into a raw, anemic mush. However, it held it's own and stood proudly and chocolatey. It sliced beautifully.

Everyone at work was eager to have a try, and the feedback was really positive. We decided that the base was rather too salty, so i would reduce the amounts in the recipe (I didn't used pink himalayan salt either). Everyone loved it except for the poor vegetarians, who i emailled in a flurry of excitement, before they calmky enquired about whether the lard included was vegetarian lard. I felt absolutely terrible- after all i had metaphoically just dangled a (very tasty, very chocolatey tart shaped) carrot in their faces and then snatched it away from them at the last minute.

Will definitely be trying this again. you can find the recipe here.

Easyville Stir Fry

Hi my lovelies,

Just thought I'd quickly tell you about this great little recipe. It's a REALLY easy and delicious stir fry which is just brilliant for a hearty but healthy mid-week post-work tea.

this stir fry was made with a standard stir fry veg pack, and topped with sesame seeds.
It's from a bento box book that i used to use all the time back in my bentobeautiful*days. The original recipe just uses beef and green peppers, but this stir fry is really versatile and great with any veg and/or any meat.

I dust beef strips with cornflour and stir fry with some garlic until just about nearly done. I'll then chuck in my veg, and stir fry for a few minutes until just nearly done.

Then, throw in your stir-fry sauce. to make this, mix together 1 tsp of oyster sauce, 1 tsp of rice wine (sake or mirin will do nicely- i usually use mirin as i end up swigging sake, lol) and 1/2 tsp of soy sauce.

Top with either sesame seeds or crushed black sesame seeds, if you wish.

beef with green and yellow pepper, topped with crushed black sesame seeds.
Stir fry for a few more minutes, and voila, a delicious, filling, healthy meal in minutes.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Sticky toffee + Cheesecake= "The Best Cheesecake Ever"

Well really, who knew that such a wondrous thing existed in the world. A recipe for a sticky toffee cheesecake.

Obviously, this needed to be attempted. I had sort of assumed, however, that it would all go horribly wrong, following the same rules as my Gin & Tonic Cake Theory- that through combining wonderful things into one baked good, a wormhole of awesomeness would open in the fabric of the universe, therefore mother nature intervenes to ruin any attempts at baking perfection.

The base of this cheesecake was made of crumbled shortbread, which was a concept i'd never come across before. Then we placed little bits of fudge all over the base:

Recently, I haven't had a huge amount of success when it comes to baked cheesecakes, but it came out of the oven in all its glory and begged to be smothered in a thick layer of caramel, with a dusting of grated chocolate.

Well, we were understandably eager to stuff our faces with some of this delight. And we were most definitely not disappointed. The only thing was that the shortbread biscuit base was rather soggy, but this seemed to be remedied the next day, after it had been left in the fridge for a while. Boyf and i seriously loved this cheesecake, and boyf's housemate also gave it his seal of approval, branding it "the best cheesecake ever". We just used a ready made caramel sauce for the top, but i think this would be even better with a home made caramel, if you have the time.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

In Which The Gateshead Mutant Spider Puts In An Appearance

So, following my recent move to my new flat, I decided that a civilised gathering of a few friends was in order. Stop laughing, it’s not a typo, I really did mean civilised, not “completely drunken and debauched”.

Two of my bestest friends came round. There was nibbles, cupcakes (to be discussed in a future post), lovely lemon shortbread (made by my friend Joanne), and most importantly, Pom-Bear crisps. I am telling you, if anyone knows how to do civilised entertaining, it is I.

As my outdoor space is still a novelty, I had thrown the doors wide to invite in the invigorating outdoor air into my homely little apartment during the day. Mmmm, fresh air, with only a small hint of gas scent from the nearby gasworks.

So, after a lengthy conversation about tactics for surviving zombie attacks, it got a bit chilly, so i thought i’d better close the patio doors.

What followed was a large amount of panic when said doors appeared obstinately opposed to the idea of locking. After about an hour of huffing, puffing, as much brute force as we could muster, and a panicked text to the landlord, we decided to have a rest.

My friend Adriana was sat on a pouffe (yes darlings, I do have a pouffe) which was pushed up against a wall. As we sat merrily sipping our tea, all of a sudden she jumped and declared “something just brushed against my back!” Well now, when it comes to ghosties and other paranormal sorts of things, I am a total wimp, so I was all “Don’t even TRY to suggest that there are ghosties in here”.

Moments later, I happened to glance down to see a sight resembling something like this:

Artists Impression of the Gateshead Mutant Spider.  Not actual size. The spider was MUCH bigger than this.
Allow me to introduce you to the Gateshead Mutant Spider. Forged in the local gasworks, this spider grew to be enormous, with a special superspider ability to prevent the locking of patio doors to gain entry into people’s new flats. Clearly, this was what brushed past Adriana’s back. Honestly, I would rather have had ghosties. What followed went thus:

-I totally freeze
-Joanne takes action to cover the Spider with a wine glass (a Jamie Oliver one no less!)
- The reality of the terrifying mutant then registers with Joanne, who quickly retreats to the safety of the kitchen bench.
-We proceed to watch the spider crawling about within its glass enclosure, then decide to cover it all with a tea towel so it can’t see us whilst we plan our next move (?!)
-We then worry that the spider is so big it’s going to be able to knock over the wine glass and attack us all by sucking our brains out of our jugular arteries, or something similar.
-Adriana takes control, and armed only with a Ritz cracker box, manages to manoeuvre the spider into a trap.
-under my watchful eye, Adriana is then made to take Gateshead Mutant Spider as far down the street as possible, before ensuring that she runs like a bat out of hell back into my flat before the evil creature can scuttle back in before her.

Needless to say, Joanne had nightmares about having to try and lock my patio doors in the event of a zombie invasion, whilst i lay wide awake in my bedroom, imagining the spider tapping on my window and trying to break the glass. Since then, Gatehead Mutant Spider hasn’t put in another indoor appearance, but i am constantly looking over my shoulder, just in case.

April 2012? What? Where? Who? What do you mean it's gone already?!

As you may have noticed, I am exceptionally behind with my little blog, leaving you, my lovely bloggie friends severely neglected. My humblest of humble apologies to you all.

Life seems to be particularly manic at the moment, what with ridiculous amounts of travel for work, and lovelife purposes. (i write this post en route to London for a mixture of both. I live in fear of East coast wi-fi giving up entirely). In the midst of all this, I've also managed to move. I'll admit that this was a rather unexpected turn of events, as i truly did love my old flat, which was right slap bang in the centre of Newcastle. I find urban living suits me entirely and i was lulled into sleep every night by the sounds of squeaky trains going past my windows mixed with sirens and drunken revellers. 

City centre living is, however, rather expensive, so in an unexpected turn of events i have skipped across the river to Gateshead, to a lovely little flat with a bit of outdoor space all of its own. I have a few friends who live in the area also, all of which seem to have decided that i am now their personal on-call baker. Expect some "i baked this, but alas can't eat any of it as it's for my neighbours grrrr" posts, along with some about my utter ineptitude when it comes to green fingered antics. I would love to do a little bit of planting and growing, but alas it seems even the lonely packet of tomato seeds i got for free is proving too much for my concrete-loving mind, and i have absolutely no idea what to do with them.

Alarmingly, I now wake up to the sound of birds chirping. And that’s it. No squeaky trains, no sirens, no smashing bottles, nothing. I am told i will get used to this, but at the moment it seems very bizarre indeed.

Needless to say, I welcome any hints and tips you may have regarding How To Live Like An Actual Adult, One Who Does Gardening And Stuff.

Ever faithful to you, my blog friends (if rather inattentive at times),