Friday, 31 July 2015

The Tough Cookie's Dulce de Leche Cookies

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 1

My first proper cooking experience in my new flat of course involved cookies.  They're my thing.  Having a jar of dulce de leche in need of finishing, this recipe from thetoughcookie.com seemed like a perfect way to lose my new kitchen virginity.  After all, cookie recipes are generally foolproof, making them perfect for getting to grips with the foibles of a new oven,  Ingredients were bought, the recipe was followed, and this was the result:


How good do these look?!  Soft and thick and full of chocolate chunks.  Chunks not chips, please note: once you've used chunks, you won't go back.  I got the light levels a bit wrong so you can't see the caramel colour that the dulce de leche gives.  You'll have to trust me that they looked mouthwateringly awesome.  The recipe noted that they are quite thick cookies, with a more cakey than biscuity texture to them.  Mine certainly did not have a crumbly texture, so they're not dunkers.  I wonder if this is because much of the sugar is replaced with dulce de leche, creating a stickier dough.  

This replacement also reduced the sweetness of the cookies quite dramatically.  In fact, they tasted a little...weird.  They had a dark, kind of treacly flavour, which almost turned to bitterness with the inclusion of the dark chocolate.  I do like a contrast in my sweet treats - the salt in the caramel, the zing of raspberry with the chocolate - so using white chocolate chunks might have better cut through this darker flavour.  As they were, they weren't unpleasant to eat; they just weren't that moreish.

None of the other reviews of this recipe note the same problem, so I'm willing to lay the whole blame on myself here.  Since moving house I have eaten a lot of shop-bought cookies, so I have probably developed a taste for the very sweet, very sugary varieties.  I've also never cooked with dulce de leche before.  If I had, maybe I'd have been prepared for the way it cooks and tastes when baked.

The good news is that the recipe was supremely easy to follow and I think I could easily adapt it to better suit my tastes.  Even better, the oven worked logically and well, baking the cookies in the time and fashion expected by the recipe.  It passed this simple test.  I'll have to push it harder next time.

Key Points:

  • When working with new ingredients, try to learn about them in advance.  
  • Be prepared to tinker with cooking times when you get a new oven.  Like all tech, it will have its quirks.

Win Rating: 3/5.  They'll never be my go-to cookies but they were strangely satisfying.


Monday, 27 July 2015

Back on the wagon

I'm so bored with talking/thinking/living the whole moving house experience.  It was frustrating and hard. But it's done, and it's time to stop using it as an excuse for being a lazy sack of crap.

As of Monday 27th July, I weigh 11 stone 1 (70.3 kg).

Which means that my weeks of eating out, binge cookie eating, and limited exercise have actually seen me lose weight.

Hmmm, that doesn't sound right.  Let's dig deeper here.

I have eaten out more than usual, although the new kitchen has seen some cooking.  This week, we've had a spag bol, chilli, and a seriously good chickpea curry.  I guess that's not so bad.

I have DEFINITELY eaten more cookies than usual.  But I suppose I've limited myself to one sweet treat a day.  Almost.

And not going to the gym does not mean that I've not been exercising.  According to the pedometer on my phone, I've walked 41,000 steps in the past three days, and that doesn't include the many times I've left my phone at home.  Exploring this new city has kept me on my feet all week (despite the relentless rain), even if it has provided numerous foodie temptations along the way.

Today, I have 'new gym membership' on my to-do list, and there are all the ingredients for a lentil curry waiting in the kitchen.  I might be a month late in my reaching the 'under 11 stone' goal but I think it might be on the cards for next week.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Operation Move House is complete!

It was one bloody long weekend but early indications suggest that the stress was worth it.  We like the new flat and the area it's in, and we have started the process of working out which pub will be our new local, which cafe will be our lunchtime go-to, and which of the myriad supermarkets would be our chosen location for 'the big shop'.  This latter choice was made much simpler by the news that the massive Tesco will shut in August.  Looks like I'm going to be a Morrisons gal from now on.

As explained last week, I've not been calorie-counting during this process.  It's just another thing to be thinking about.  However, while unpacking the scales I did take the opportunity to see the damage, and was relieved to see that I'm still just over 11 stone.  In some ways this isn't surprising – I have moved the entire contents of my flat out of one building, into a van, out of said van, and into another building this weekend – but I can't say that I've been eating great meals.  Where I can, I've tried to take the less calorific options on offer.  This sounds noble but in reality it's the difference between choosing a full English breakfast and choosing a vegetarian breakfast: it might sound healthier but there's still a lot of fried food going on.

I'd written off the first few days after the move for similar reasons.  The kitchen still had to be cleaned, the utensils unpacked and washed, and the food shop done, so it seemed reasonable to limit cooking responsibilities to heating a pizza and opening a bag of salad.  I'm planning the first proper food shop tomorrow, and the priority is getting the stuff together for solid home cooking.  I want to eat a healthy meal in the evening, but also to have some easy meals to throw together for lunch and some fruit or something for snacking.  Decaf tea is another priority as I'm starting to get the symptoms of caffeine overdose.

There's also the small matter of gym membership to consider.  I haven't decided whether to fork out for a new one or if I should try to get back into my running routine.  Either way, that needs to be looked at pretty sharpish, particularly as I no longer have large boxes to heave around.

It seems sensible to start weighing myself again next Monday.  That gives me a week to get over the post-move hangover (I've never been so tired in my life) and to have worked out the little kitchen-y things like how the new cooker works (electric hobs are a nuisance) and what do to with my seven half-finished pots of cumin (combine and conquer, I think).  It'll almost be a luxury to have nothing more strenuous to think about than how many calories I've shoved in my piehole.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The OCD guide to moving house

Very much not my kitchen
Or, more specifically, to packing up your kitchen.

Moving house is a difficult proposition for anyone.  There are so many things to think about, from changing your address with everyone you've ever met or had business with to packing up everything you've ever owned.  It is stressful, frustrating, and pretty dull with it.  Moving out of a rental property has the added stress that the deposit depends on it being in a good state when you leave.  If you want that money back, you're gonna have to work for it.

As usual, suffering from OCD makes this experience one thousand times worse, as everything feels cluttered and dirty for weeks before and after the move.  The good news is that the compulsion to make lists and clean until your hands bleed is actually useful in this situation.  Let the inner obsessive take the lead and you'll find that the jobs get completed quickly and to a high standard.  Consider it your superpower for the duration of the move.

Today, I discovered that the kitchen is the hardest part of the whole house to pack up and clean.  You would think that The OCD Cook would have a spotless kitchen to begin with, making this a painless task that I could execute with style and grace.

Nope.

If you're soon embarking on a move and the very thought of tackling the kitchen is stressing you out, here are a few top tips*:

1) Start using up the food in your cupboards, fridge and freezer as soon as you know you're moving. There will always be some food left over –  it's your choice as to what you take, what you throw, and what you give to the foodbanks – but take the pressure off by using up what you can beforehand.  Be warned: you might end up with some less-than-inspiring dishes, such as having to eat your weight in tinned tuna in the space of a fortnight.  A big freezer food blowout with friends is maybe a more palatable alternative.

2) Don't bother obsessively cleaning all the pots and pans before you pack them.  You don't want them crusted in food but, in the end, you're probably going to want to clean them once they're unpacked anyway.  Don't create more work for yourself; there will be enough to do anyway.

3) If you're not gonna use it, chuck it.  The same goes for the rest of the house, but kitchens have a habit of accumulating tech and junk in a way that defies belief.  You don't need three kettles; you've not used that smoothie maker yet; the grilled sandwich doodad is caked in crusty cheese: these are all things that can go.  I have an entire cupboard devoted to ice cream cartons that have been cleaned out for leftovers: these are non-essential.  After all, there is always more ice cream to be eaten.

4) Use the patented two-clean method.  This is my favourite way to clean.  Once you've packed up your kitchen stuff, use washing-up liquid to clean out the cupboards, the fridge, the work surfaces: pretty much everything, in fact.  This is great because it gives a good surface clean, lifting all the grime, dirt and stains.  Then, after the move, when you're doing the final go-over of the building, you just have to go over everything one more time, perhaps with kitchen wipes this time (washing-up liquid doesn't always get the grease spots).  The first clean will mean that this is little more than a wipe-around in most places, and you can focus on getting those awkward areas spotless instead. It might sound like twice the work, but the results make it worth it.

5) Get someone else to clean the oven.  My OCD cannot take the mixture of hardcore grime and abrasive chemicals.  This is what your housemate/partner/obliging parent is for.

6) Clean the kitchen in the new place before trying to move anything into it.  A good clean foundation will save stress in the long run.  Ideally, you'll keep the place tip-top for the duration of your stay there, but we're only human.  Start as you mean to go on, and give yourself a fighting chance.

It's a bit late for me this time, but if you have any Kim and Aggie style advice on moving, I'd love to know.  

*Disclaimer: I can only speak for myself.  I take no responsibility for your messy kitchen, lost deposit, or weird-smelling freezer.

Monday, 13 July 2015

On skipping the scales

I've been honest with this blog and myself about the difficulties I've had monitoring my food intake and my exercise over the past couple of weeks.  With moving day imminent (we're picking the keys up on Friday...), there have just been so many other things to think about.  A bit of comfort eating seems like a small price to pay for a less stressful evening, after all.

It's not been all bad.  I've actually tried running again for the first time since I badly hurt my ankle last year.  Having always been an awful runner, I was so pleased to be able to run two miles straight off.  Losing a bit of weight and building up my muscle and stamina at the gym must have had an effect.  

However, it is Monday and I am supposed to be weighing myself, and I just can't bring myself to do it.  I'm not expecting anything too horrific but there seems no point in stressing myself out about a number when I know that I have not been stressing about my food and exercise this week.  It's counterproductive.

There is even a school of thought that we should avoid the scales altogether, partly because of the emotional pressure that gets associated with it.  Not only that, you know when you're feeling good or bad, whether you've been eating right, and all that.  You can see and feel the results in a way that the number on the scale does not always represent.

As soon as I've got the move out of the way, I'll start to use the diet in the way that I did before, as a means of monitoring and being more mindful about my lifestyle.  The scales can come back out then.  For now, I know that I am still in much better shape than I have been in a long time and a few pounds either way is not going to stop that.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Meat-free isn't always stress-free

I've effectively given up on my diet for the next week.  We move house next Friday and there is simply not enough space in my life or kitchen for worrying about calorie-counting or 5-a-days.  Once we've moved, we will have two massive supermarkets within a five minute walk of the front door, so proper eating will be easier once more.  Honest.

Slipping off the diet wagon has made me think about one of the stricter diets I've tried over this year.  I posted a while back that I had missed the boat with Meat-Free Week but, as a supporter of the idea in theory, I was keen to give it a try once the meat in the fridge had been eaten.  I did actually do this but never got around to writing up my experience.  Like so many diets, it wasn't something that really suited me...

In some ways, going veggie shouldn't have been a big deal.  I quite frequently get to the end of the day and realise I've not had any meat.  My problem comes during those weeks when I end up eating out a lot.  Granted, the choices for vegetarians have definitely improved (although I'm sure being a vegan is hard work) but there are still plenty of food outlets that seem to view a bean burger and some kind of spinach lasagne concoction as sufficient choice for the herbivores out there.  I think omnivores are sometimes the problem here: I know plenty of people (mainly guys, although that's anecdotal) who would actively turn their noses up at a meal that didn't include meat.  That seems weird to me.  Good food is good food, just like good music is good music regardless of the genre.

LINGUINE WITH LEMON, GARLIC AND THYME MUSHROOMS
Pretty and yummy
I certainly had some good food when we went vegetarian.  Hubby made a lemon and mushroom pasta from Nigella's book that was light and filling at the same time.  We had a lentil and aubergine curry courtesy of Jamie Oliver that is about my favourite curry ever (and makes enough portions to freeze for a month).  We even had veggie pizza and went out for curry without any compromise about the kind of food we ordered.

Word of warning, though: curried Brussels sprouts and cabbage might be delicious but they are not your friend the next day.

In fact, considering a vegetarian diet is supposed to be healthier than my usual one, I felt quite a lot worse for it.  My mild IBS usually only flares up with stress, so I have to assume that the change in diet was partly responsible for the discomfort I felt at various parts of the week.  There may have been other factors involved (and one week isn't exactly a rigorous test), but I felt no qualms about calling it quits after Day 6.  I had a chicken and pea pie and it was awesome.

I felt better too.

I think going meat-free did instill in me a greater awareness of what I was eating and where it comes from.  The supermarkets near the new flat both have really good meat and deli counters, including a lot of fresh and locally-sourced products, and I think trying to eat a higher quality of meat might be a better alternative for me than forgoing meat entirely.  I'll have the occasional day of accidental vegetarianism alongside a long-term commitment to buying local fresh produce, perhaps even going organic in future.  That way, I'm limiting the global impact of my meat consumption without having to give up burgers.  It was a good experiment and it taught me a lot, but vegetarianism just isn't the lifestyle for me.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Putting the OCD back into the OCD Cook

Considering the name of this blog and how big a factor mental illness has sometimes been in my life, my OCD hasn't been a massive part of most of my posts.

This is a good thing.

When life is going well, I can sometimes almost forget that I'm an anxiety-ridden mess of a human being for a few hours and enjoy doing awesome things like reading or going to the cinema or giggling at cats on Youtube.  


You know, normal life stuff.

But when things start to go a bit bad, the spiral into full-on depression can be terrifyingly quick.  Take this week.  In many ways, it's been good.  We've found a place we want to move into, started the paperwork and packing process, and I've had some positive feedback on the writing I've been doing.  These are all good feelings.

The trouble with OCD, though, is that none of these positives can be taken at face value.  Every event has to be mentally poked and prodded to expose the holes, to tease out the negatives hiding behind the positives.  

It's all very tiring.

Currently, I'm spending most of my free time cleaning, tidying, boxing stuff up, blah.  Everything is dirty.  Everything is contaminated.  I haven't felt comfortable for a fortnight.

From the outside, I probably seem normal.  I've got control over my compulsions for the most part (when I'm unusually distressed, you may notice certain repeated hand movements or me muttering nonsense phrases under my breath) but stopping the incessant worries and paranoid thoughts is a much trickier proposition.  I've not managed it yet.

So this is the place in which I've found myself this week, literally making myself sick with worry over a thousand eventualities that I can't control.  I've been binge eating and not exercising, and feel about as crap as I've done in a long time.  Thankfully, if OCD is good for anything, it's for becoming obsessive about making change.  Today, I'm back on the diet, have some gym sessions planned, and will work on focusing my efforts on the parts of the world that I can actually affect.  

The full extent of the damage: as of July 6 2015, I weigh 11 stone 3 (71.2 kgs).  Again.

I'm a bit gutted really.  Having had a tough (albeit successful) first half of the year, I'd been thinking of the second half of the year as an opportunity to get on top of all the things I've had to sideline for the sake of work.  Instead, I've let outside events influence my mental health and have struggled because of it.  I take heart from knowing that you sometimes have to remember how bad bad can be in order to motivate yourself to be better. Not a lesson to repeat any time soon though, ok Brain?

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Hairy Bikers' Beef with Noodles...

...or, When Noodles Go Bad.

OCD Panic Rating: 3/5
Handwashes: 3

I don't know whether the success of my chilli beef stir-fry went to my head or what, but this week saw my first real kitchen failure of many months.

The recipe I was aiming for was the Hairy Bikers' Beef with Noodles.  My husband had made it before and it was very tasty despite his use of the wrong type of soy sauce.  The recipe calls for ketjap manis, which is a sweet soy sauce that I just happened to have picked up at the BBC Good Food Show last winter.  I'd yet to find a recipe for it so was excited to find a diety one to justify breaking the seal.  Having never heard of it before (despite me showing him the bottle, natch), my husband used normal soy sauce.  Still tasted good but I wanted to try the recipe again properly.

On paper, it shouldn't have been any more difficult than the chilli beef I made a week or two back.  It was based around a ketjap manis/soy sauce/fish sauce combo, similar to the sauce used before.  However, the noodles were only to be partially cooked here, before being stir-fried with the other ingredients to completely soften.

The sauce was a worry for me as it turned out that our fish sauce should have been stored in the fridge since opening.  Correct storage and adherence to use-by dates is a major OCD issue for me and, God knows, you can't tell the freshness of fish sauce by sniffing it.  Ugh, not to be recommended.  In the end, I used it, as the fish sauce had been used without incident only a few days before.  But I wasn't happy about it.

Turns out the fish sauce was a red herring, so to speak, as it was the noodles that I needed to keep an eye on.  Everything had been going swimmingly – I had an authentic-smelling sauce, cooked beef and prepped veggies – but the second the noodles hit the pan, it all went wrong.  Rather than separating, they clumped together, trapping the veg and beef in a congealed mass of food.  It's not entirely clear from the pictures...




...but you could have formed a usable brick with minimal effort.  I tried to rescue my dinner but the broccoli was refusing to cook, the fish sauce was becoming increasingly pungent, and my vermicelli noodles had bunched together to create an epic supernoodle.

I turned off the heat, took my photos and chucked it in the bin.  Then went out for a burger.

Key Points:

I'm not really sure what went wrong so it's hard to say.  Sometimes food doesn't work and it's best to laugh it off and try again next time.

Win Rating: 0/5