My weight loss journey series: vol 2 – The beginning

I became serious about my weight loss at the beginning – mid September 2018. As I mentioned in my introduction post of this series, I’ve gone on a strict calorie counting diet of 1000-1200 kcal a day, with occasional dinners out where I don’t count calories.

At the beginning, I was doing a lot of research into foods that are beneficial to dieters. Drinking a lot of water is for sure one of the main building blocks to being successful. Foods high in protein and fibre are vital, so I wrote these in my weight loss journal that I’m keeping. Every now and then I refer to this list to try to come up with new foods and recipes with ingredients I might not typically cook with very much.

To help with planning my food and count the calories, I started writing a list of common ingredients I would be using, with their calorie content. I keep adding to the list as I go along.

On the first week, I lost 2.5kg (5.5lbs). Now, I’m under no illusion that that would’ve all been fat, but nevertheless, the scale showed that much less at the end of the week, and it’s kept going down!

After five weeks, I had lost 6.2kg (13.7lbs), and my waist measurement had gone down by 4cm (1.6 inches).I also had a couple of planned work dinners, as well as went out for a meal or two with my husband. It was great to see that even when I did this, the weight didn’t get up, but instead kept going down. At the end of the day, you need to get calorie deficit over a period of time, and occasionally having a day where you don’t contribute to that deficit won’t do any harm. Also, don’t be too alarmed if after a fuller meal the scale has gone up, just carry on with the diet again and it will go back down. And don’t forget that even things like whether you’ve had a good sleep can affect on what the scale is showing. I go on the scale every morning, however only write down a weekly measurement every Sunday morning.

And this all came at a time where during the first couple of weeks I had about three work dinners, and two meals out with my husband. To be honest, I was amazed myself, too, that these had no negative effect!

This was more than double to where I was expecting my total weight loss to be at this stage. I was, however, conscious that my metabolism will shut down at some stage, with such a low calorie intake, once my body gets used to it (more of that in the next post).

I was extremely hungry all the time at the beginning, however after a few weeks your body will get used to it, and you won’t be hungry anymore, so just stick with it. Also, I was occasionally feeling very cold in the evenings. usually, when this happens, the weight has done a big jump down when measuring the next day.

But how did I do it?

My typical breakfast is 1dl (3.5 oz) uncooked porridge oats, cooked with 2.5 tbsp skimmed milk powder, pinch of salt and 2.5 dl (8.8 oz) water. I also have a cup of coffee with semi-skimmed milk. I get about 200 kcal from my breakfast.

My typical lunch is a salad, with always one hard boiled egg for protein. My standard salad ingredients are lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, celery, pepper. I tend to have standard lettuce, mixture of other salad leaves, and I love pea shoots so they most of the time find their way into my lunchbox. I sometimes add radishes, cauliflower, spring onions etc. I get about 200-250 kcal from my lunch.

My typical dinner normally includes a large oven grilled chicken breast, handful of fresh tomatoes and / or a handful of cooked Brussels sprouts or other vegetables. Towards the end of the first week, as I had lost so much weight I added some boiled brown rice to my dinner. And I can make this same dinner for my husband, who isn’t trying to lose weight. I’ll just add some potatoes or rice on his plate. For variation, instead of chicken, I might have other meat or fish such as pork, turkey, beef, (lamb), salmon, mackerel etc, however chicken is the one I have the most. I have become very aware of calorie content of many things, and always count total calories when making something. Cooking oil is very high in calories, so I tend to mostly oven grill or steam my food.

I do of course make other foods too sometimes. One example is this super tasty vegetarian bake, which is very low in calories, click here to view.

Occasionally, I might have a handful of nuts between my lunch and dinner, but be aware, because even though they are healthy, they are quite high in calories, just like avocado. It’s ok to have these, as long as you count these calories towards your daily allowance.

Also, if very hungry in the evening, or I haven’t reached my daily calorie allowance, I might sometimes have a snack of 1dl (3.5oz) of natural yoghurt with a small banana or fresh berries. Other one of my occasional snacks might be 1-2 slices of rye bread, which is much healthier than wheat bread. Again, these will count to your total daily calorie intake. I might even have a cheeky piece of chocolate, however I do check the calorie content and then consider what my calorie intake from other food has been that day.

Pan seared, oven roasted pheasant

Pheasant is smaller than chicken, however not as small as some other game birds are, so one should be enough for two people. It’s pretty simple to cook, and a portion of half the bird (breast and leg) will be about 300 kcal, which is around the same as a large chicken breast. Noticeably gamey flavour, so a nice change to the usual chicken.

1 whole pheasant
1 tbsp vegetable oil
100ml red wine (I used Pinot Noir)
50ml port wine
1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 juniper berries
sea salt
black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 355°F. Heat the oil in a ovenproof frying pan, and place the bird in the pan on it’s side, to fry the leg for 5 minutes. Turn to the other side, and repeat.

2. Turn the bird so that the breast side is facing down, and fry for another 3 minutes. Season withcouple of piches of sea salt, and some black pepper. Place in the preheated oven, and roast for 15 minutes. Turn the bird so that ast side is now up, season again and roast for another 15 minutes.

3. Take the pan out of the oven, and lift the bird out of the pan, on double layer of foil. Wrap the bird with the foil. I also tend to put a layer of kitchen towel around it while it’s resting, so that it doesn’t get cold whilst making the sauce.

4. Remove the fat from the pan. Add both of the wines, thyme sprigs and crushed juniper berries. I normally use fresh thyme, but as we recently came back home from abroad, and are going on another holiday very soon, I hadn’t bothered with buying fresh herbs. Bring to boil, and simmer until it’s reduced by about a third. Scrape the pan, to get all the flavours from the bird into the sauce. Strain through a sieve.

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My weight loss journey series: vol 1 – The introduction

In my weight loss journey series I’ll be writing about my progress with my attempt to lose a lot of weight. I will also still be posting my usual food posts, this is just an additional series. I will be sharing what is working for me, and if anyone else finds inspiration from how I’m doing it, I’m glad. The two pictures are about two and half months apart, and the weight difference is about 7kg / 15lbs.

Like probably for most, my weight over the years has quietly crept up. There have been a few attempts to get it down, but after a while I’ve found myself back to where I started from. I’m not exactly sure what has been my ‘wake-up’ call, but I feel I’m on a very good, successful path at the moment. It might have been because I bought clothes that were a size bigger than ever before, who knows. My initial target is to lose 30kg / 66lbs, with another 10kg / 22lbs depending on how I feel once at that stage. So far I’ve lost around 9kg / 19.8lbs in the last few months. I’m not looking for a quick fix, which has far greater danger of everything bouncing back really quickly too. I’m expecting it to take over a year to reach my target. My weekly target is 0.5 kg / 1.1lbs, which is a very healthy amount. During my diet weeks, I sometimes may lose a lot more, but during break weeks I won’t lose anything, still keeping the total weight loss to target.

Personally, I don’t like diets. I find various diet programmes too restricting to my lifestyle. I like cooking and eating nice food, and my husband and I also do a lot of fine dining as a hobby. Throw in occasional dinners with customers, and you’re in a hamster’s wheel that’s difficult to get out of.

This is why my past weight loss attempts focused on exercise rather than diet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of those who would actually like to go and do some exercise, however due to busy and long working hours I’ve finally admitted to myself that this is not a sustainable option, and the reason I have failed in the past.

When I finally made my very determined decision to finally lose my extra weight, one of the first things I did was to actually cancel my gym membership! Having the membership, with very little time to go, has for a long time been ‘an excuse’ for not being able to lose weight.

Second step for me was some soul searching. I considered what I wanted to achieve, and my relationship to food. Once I’d had an honest look at myself, I was ready to start. I feel this is very important. At the beginning of my diet I was constantly feeling hungry, and had I not done the soul searching I think this could’ve been a first stumbling block that makes people quit. I accepted the fact I was hungry, with a realisation that it’s actually not going to kill me! I also couldn’t remember when the last time had been when I had properly been hungry. I’m first to put my hands up and admit that my eating habits have been luxurious and decadent, and it has been a very comfortable place to be in. Now, this is something I will never give up completely, and so far I’ve been able to lose weight and still eat nice things occasionally too.

I’ve completely created my own diet. I still go out to eat with my husband, or with work, and yet have still had a great start. This first post is an introduction to my journey, and as it’s already turning to be long enough, I won’t be adding samples of foods / recipes I eat on this particular post. I will, however, be including these in my future posts.

What works for me, might not work for someone else, or it could indeed be a great option, because it does give the freedom to occasionally forget that you’re on a diet. I count calories, and do a very strict 1000-1200 kcal on most days. I do restrict bread, potato, rice and pasta on most days, however if eating out, or I have lost so much weight in a week that I want to slow it down I might add some.

Kinkku (gammon)

Gammon is the main star of the whole show in the Finnish Christmas table (nothing of course is stopping anyone cooking it other times too). The original one would be gray in colour instead of the pink in the picture, but unfortunately I’ve not been successful in finding a gray salted one in the UK yet. For the pink version, nitrate is added. It acts as a preservative, and gives the pink colour, however it’s considered to be pretty unhealthy. In the gray version, nitrate isn’t added. The key to getting a juicy piece of meat, as anyone practicing slow cooking of roasts already knows, is to cook the gammon at a very low temperature, for a very long time. It then gets taken out of the oven and cooled, coated and put back for a very high temperature for a short period of time. Traditionally, on the Christmas table the gammon is served cold. I tend to cook it the day before, and on the day of cooking have it also for dinner served warm. It’s perfectly fine to serve it both ways, which ever you would prefer.

1. Take the gammon into room temperature. Dry with kitchen tissue. I would recommend putting it in a roasting bag. Cut a small hole at one corner. Put a roasting thermometer in the cold meat, so that the tip is at the thickest part. If your meat has a bone take care not to touch the bone with the thermometer. The ideal inside temperature of the meat for putting it in the oven is 10°C / 50°F.

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2. Place some water at the bottom of an oven pan. Heat the oven to 100°C (fan) / 210°F. The aim is to achieve inside temperature of the meat of 77°C – 80°C / 171°F – 176°F. I tend to try to get to the lower end, for juicier result.

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3. Remove from the oven. Cut the bag off, as well as any strings or net around the meat. Let cool on a rack for half an hour to an hour. After this, Remove the skin, and most of the fat.

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4. Coat with mustard, and breadcrumbs.

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5. Heat the oven to 250°C / 480°F, and cook the gammon for 10 minutes.

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Mince pies

Mince pies are not part of my native culture, and I didn’t like them for a long time after moving to London, but since I started making these (to keep my husband happy) I have grown to like them. I think this recipe is a really good mince pie recipe. Making the mince requires you to be somewhat organized, as you want to leave it for a few weeks, before using it for the actual pies.

Mince
225g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped/grated
110g sultanas
60g currants
60g dried cranberries
175g raisins
110g mixed candied peel
4 tbsp dark rum, whiskey or brandy
25g finely chopped blanched almonds
1 large orange, finely grated zest and juice
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
110g shredded suet
175g dark muscovado sugar

Rum butter
125g butter, room temperature
50g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp dark rum, whisky or brandy

Pastry
450g plain flour
180g butter, chilled and diced
50g lard, chilled and diced
finely grated zest of  1 orange
5-6 tbsp orange juice

Mince
1. Combine all mince ingredients apart from the muscovado and suet. Cook in a saucepan over low heat for 45 – 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has plumped up, the apples have broken down and excess liquid has evaporated.

2. Set aside to cool, then mix in the muscovado and suet. For adults version, I also tend to add some more alcohol at this stage (3 tbsp), as the cooking has burned all alcohol off.

3. Put in sterilized jars, and mature for 3-4 weeks.

Rum butter
Whisk the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then gradually beat in the rum, and set aside in the fridge.

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Pastry
1. Put the flour, butter and lard, as well as a pinch of salt, into a food processor. Whizz briefly until it looks like breadcrumbs.

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2. Add the orange zest and juice, and whizz again.

3. Turn onto floured surface, and knead briefly, until smooth. Wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes.

The pies
1. Preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F.

2. Grease the baking tins with butter. Roll the dough to about 5mm thickness. I tend to cut out circles with two glasses. The bigger one for the ‘body’ of the pies, and the smaller for the lids of the pies. Place the bigger circles in the greased baking tins, forming the bottom and sides of the pie. fill with the mince mixture, and put a teaspoon of the rum butter on top. Then place the lid over, pressing the edges together with the edges of the other dough.

3. Make few punctures with a sharp knife, and brush with beaten egg, then bake for 20 minutes.

Beetroot and dill cured salmon

Cured salmon is one of the foods often enjoyed as part of the Scandinavian kitchen. There are many variations to it, however the basics you will need are sugar and salt. The whole process is based on the reaction called osmosis, and is an ancient way of preserving foods that wouldn’t last fresh for long otherwise. During the curing, you will notice a lot of liquid will be drawn out of the fish. The cured fish will last in the fridge for few weeks, however I doubt you will have anything left for that long.

2 raw beetroot, grated
500g piece of fresh salmon
50g table salt
90g caster sugar
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
a bunch of fresh dill

1. Dry roast the mustard seeds, until fragrant and popping. Cool, and crush together with the peppercorns with pestle and mortar. Mix together with salt, sugar and finely chopped dill.

2. Place a large piece of cling film to cover the dish you’re using for your curing. Place half of the raw, grated beetroot at the bottom. Then add half of the mixture of the other ingredients.

3. Add the piece of salmon on top of the beetroot and sugar / salt mixture. Leave the skin on the fish.

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4. Add the salt / sugar mixture and the beetroot on top of the fish too.

5. Tightly pack the fish and curing mixture. I used three different layers of cling film, however some of the liquid will still seep through. Place something to act as weights on top of the fish, and put in to fridge.

5. About every 12 hours (or every morning and evening), turn the fish upside down. I also change the direction my weights are, to try to ensure they are covering as much as possible during the process.

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6. After two days, your fish is ready. Drain all liquid, and wipe the fish piece clean.

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Chicken paella

Now that I recently started making paella (I never used to like paellas I tried), I now like them, and look forward to trying different versions. As with any cooking, I like making everything from scratch as much as possible. Since I started making my own chicken stock, I hardly ever use shop bought ones, as your own homemade one is so much better, making all your dishes better, too. To have a go at making your own, click here. I save the meat that gets left over from the making of the stock, and I used it for this paella, however using uncooked chicken for this paella is absolutely fine, they just get added at different stages.

serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 large onion
1 small green finger chilli
1 red pepper
110g cooking chorizo
1 lemon, juice squeezed (or 2 tbsp. lemon juice)
2 dl frozen peas
250g Bomba paella rice
600 ml chicken stock
650g chicken
pinch of saffron
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp paprika powder
1/2 tsp salt

1. Finely chop the onions, garlic and chilli. Heat olive oil in a large pan. Fry the onions until softened, and add the garlic and chilli. Also add the saffron and half the paprika powder.

2. Chop the chorizo (and chicken if using raw), and add to the pan. Fry for 5-10 minutes, until the chorizo (and chicken) are cooked.

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3. Add finely chopped tomatoes and pepper, mixing everything together.

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4. Add the paella rice, and stir together, then add the stock liquid. Stir, then simmer uncovered and undisturbed, without stirring, for 15 minutes. During this time, sprinkle the salt and black pepper on top.

5. Add the peas, and if using cooked chicken, the meat. Stir until warmed through. Add the remaining half of the paprika powder and the lemon juice.