If you follow me on Twitter, or have conversed with me recently, you’ll know that I’m currently (and I hate this term) ‘dieting’. Whilst I’m not attempting to lose weight by bleaching my insides with a potent mix of maple syrup, flat lemonade and cayenne pepper a la Beyoncé, I have signed my life away to the grand high church of Weight Watchers.
There are numerous reasons why I’ve decided to lose weight – and not all of them are due to unabashed vanity. Indeed, after more than one visit to the doctor where they’ve taken a look at my weight, then a look at my family health history and proceeded to spend 45 minutes telling me off for spending my 20s pickling myself in gin, I have finally realised that something has got to give. That give being….me.
Since starting the plan in June last year, I have managed to lose just over a stone (it should have been more, but my crippling addiction to cured pork products, baked desserts and red wine keeps getting in the way of things). And whilst I don’t agree with everything Weight Watchers promote (their recent TV advertising campaign being one of them), it’s one of the few diets I’ve tried which really appear to be working for me. Yet, despite my positive experiences with Weight Watchers, when they asked me if I’d like to review one of their cookbooks, I was initially wary. I’m always slightly suspicious of cookbooks produced by diet clubs after a bad experience a few years ago where I attempted to make a Slimming World Carrot Cake from one of their publications and ended up with something which had the texture and taste of a used bathroom sponge. But, in the interests of fairness and decency, I am prepared to try anything once. Even if that ‘once’ does result in a cake I could scrub my bath with.
As it is, I was really pleasantly surprised with The Complete Kitchen. It’s full of lovely pictures, easy to read, and contains a wide range of appetising looking recipes. It’s divided into numerous sections, encompassing simple sauces, easy dinners for a family, Sunday roasts, quick breads vegetarian mains and desserts.
It’s a book which is very much aimed at the beginner cook – the person who is just making tentative steps into the kitchen, and therefore may lack the confidence to bake their own bread from scratch, or make their own stock. There’s a great section at the front which contains some basic cooking terminology and guides you through simple kitchen processes such as how to brown meat and make your own breadcrumbs.
I’ll admit that I initially flicked through my review copy, I was worried that – as someone who likes to challenge themselves in the kitchen – I’d quickly become frustrated with its simplicity. However, I’ve found myself referring back to it when I just want to make something quick and delicious for dinner without worrying about about a meal’s points value. I’ve even cooked quite a few recipes out of it for Mr. Cay who has wolfed them down quite happily.
I’ll admit though – some recipes have worked better than others. Whilst the Asian Pork Patties with Coriander Rice and Tiger Prawn Tagliatelle were a resounding success, it’s probably best that we don’t mention the Pea and Potato Samosas I attempted to make a few weeks ago which (despite containing a delicious filling) came out of the oven looking like little parcels of failure.
If there’s one criticism that I could make about The Complete Kitchen, it’s that it’s slightly inconsistent in some places, and has an over reliance on recipes which involve you using artificial, low-fat ingredients rather than showing people how to make things from scratch. For example, a recipe for a rather tasty looking Cashew Nut Curry advises the cook to make up a curry sauce from Bisto Chip Shop Curry granules (!) Wouldn’t it just be better (and healthier) to show how to make a simple curry gravy from scratch using lots of spices and fresh ingredients? Is it really that hard to make a curry?
Despite that, it’s a nice addition to my ever increasing cook book file, and a good thing to refer to when I come home from work and just want to make something quick, tasty and filling that won’t kick the arse out of my points allowance for the day. Much like this Kosheri – a vegetarian Egyptian carb-buster of a dish which comprises of rice, pasta, lentils, tomato sauce and is topped with caramelised onions. This is the kind of food that you wouldn’t expect to see being promoted by Weight Watchers and yet it is – meaning that I have carte blanche to consume piles of it when I come home from an especially tiring work out at the gym. Now, if they can just figure out a way where I can devour my own bodyweight in bacon and Pinot Noir and still lose weight…
KOSHERI (Serves four. It’s also 9 WW points per serving if you care about that sort of thing)
- 150g dried green lentils, rinsed
- 1 red chilli, de-seeded and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp cumin
- 400g chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) vegetable stock
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp light brown sugar
- 150g basmati rice
- 50g dried pasta
- 1 cinnamon stick
- A kettleful of boiling water
- Place the lentils in a small lidded saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cook briskly, uncovered, for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered for 15 minutes or so until tender. Don’t over-cook, or the lentils will collapse.
- Meanwhile, make the spicy tomato sauce. Heat a teaspoon of oil, and fry the cumin, garlic and chilli for 30 seconds, then add the chopped tomatoes, red wine vinegar and 175ml of vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
- Next, cook the caramelised onions for the topping. Place the onions in a lidded, non stick pan with another 150ml of the stock. Cook, covered until soft, then remove the lid. Add the olive oil and brown sugar (these will both help the onions to caramelise), increase the heat and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until they turn sticky and dark brown. Keep a close eye on them whilst they’re cooking to ensure that they aren’t sticking to the pan or burning.
- To cook the rice and pasta, bring the rest of the stock to the boil in a lidded saucepan, adding the cinnamon stick. Stir in both the rice and pasta, and bring back to the boil together. Simmer briskly for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. By the end of this time, the rice and pasta should be tender and have absorbed all the liquid. Remove from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes, covered with a clean tea towel to absorb the steam and to allow the rice to fluff up. Discard the cinnamon stick and then spoon the rice and pasta into four deep bowls.
- Drain the lentils, and rinse briefly with some boiling water from the kettle. Drizzle over the spicy tomato sauce and serve topped with the lentils and caramelised onions.
You can purchase ‘The Complete Kitchen’ online or at your local Weight Watchers meeting. Thanks to Weight Watchers for the review copy of this publication.