guilty pleasure mince and potato casserole

Right, come on – mince and potato casserole. If there’s one thing I’m learning is that we can put all manner of fancy recipes up but the things that you lot like always have lots of cheese and starch in them. And so what? Listen, sometimes what you need is just a plate full of stodge. Have an apple afterwards to keep Mags happy, but you know what, life is for living. Whilst this dish might hasten you to the grave that bit quicker, at least you’ll go stinking of cheddar.

Just a recipe post after yesterday’s lengthy, girthy entry – though I want to have a quick whinge about public displays of affection. I’m not some miserable, sexless oaf who can’t stand to see people happy but seriously, have a bromide smoothie and literally calm your tits. Newcastle is awash with students once more and the walk home takes me through Leazes Park, where I consider it a ‘good’ day if I’ve only managed to see one person being penetrated by another. I feel like I’m inadvertently dogging, walking past couples rolling around on the grass or bouncing on each other’s laps on the memorial benches. I get it, you’re in love, blah blah, but that love will fade and you’ll grow fat and tired and you’ll look back at that time you were being given a shocker* by the swan-pond by someone with dickies and a guitar with regret. Trust me.

Paul and I will often hold hands, safe in the knowledge that few people would dare say anything because, until one of us speaks, we look faintly butch and have a significant weight advantage on most decent folks. But that’s generally where it ends – I’m not going to be giving him a rusty trombone in the bus-stop just so people can SEE OUR LOVE. Which is what I think about 80% of PDA is – making sure everyone else is made to feel uncomfortable, or jealous, or put out that they don’t have love. It makes me squicky. It’s just not the way we do things here. You must understand, I’m about as far from being a prude as one can be without getting arrested, but even so.

Anyway, come now, let’s do the recipe. Mince and potato casserole: this makes four massive portions.

Oh and a shocker? Easy. Two in the beaver, one taking her fever. Cheers!

mince and potato casserole

mince and potato casserole

to make mince and potato casserole you will need:

  • 500g lean beef mince
  • 4 large potatoes (there’s no need to peel them, but give them a good scrub)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and diced finely
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (got one of these yet? why not?)
  • 160g reduced-fat cheddar cheese, grated (4x HeA)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tin Campbells condensed cream of chicken soup (14.5 syns)
  • 100ml skimmed milk (2 syns)
  • 1 tbsp fat free natural yoghurt

to make mince and potato casserole you should:

  • bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the potatoes – parboil for five minutes, and then drain and slice into pound-coin thick slices
  • meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°c and spray a 9″ by 13″ dish with a bit of oil
  • whisk together the soup, salt, pepper, garlic powder, milk and yoghurt and set aside
  • next, heat a little oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat
  • add the mince and cook until no pink meat remains
  • add the onion, garlic and green pepper and cook for a few more minutes and the peppers have softened
  • next, you’ll need to layer the ingredients in the pyrex dish in the following order:
    • one third of the potatoes;
    • half the mince;
    • one third of the soup;
    • one third of the cheese;
    • one third of the potatoes
    • rest of the mince;
    • one third of the soup;
    • one third of the cheese;
    • rest of the potatoes;
    • rest of the soup; and finally,
    • rest of the cheese.
  • cover with foil and bake in the oven for an hour
  • remove the foil and bake for a further thirty minutes
  • serve, and eat!

Not enough for you? Don’t worry – we’ve got tons of recipes for you – all for free! Just click one of the buttons below:

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Enjoy!

J

this is nacho normal salad

I’m so sorry, but I can never resist a pun. I just can’t. I’m just glad I’m not a doctor. or I’d spend my days trying to work a gag into telling someone they had six months to live. But why nacho salad? Wait and see. But I have some business to attend to first…tonight’s travel entry, wrapping up Newcastle as it does, is a long one, and if you just want the food, then I’ve created a wee shortcut. Just click the LEATHERY OLD BOOT to go straight to the food…

I’m so glad she’s gone. Did you see what she was wearing? Sweet jesus…


part one | part two | part three | part four | part five | part six

Last Newcastle post! I know, I bet you’re so furious you could punch a toilet-attendant for handing you a lollipop, but try and hold your shit together. When you were last with us I’d just kicked Paul’s arse at Kerplunk and Connect 4 and he was crying into his gin. To sober him up and to add a touch of local culture to the weekend, we decided to visit our local museum dedicated to the North East – the Discovery Museum. It’s quite an apt name, as you’ll discover new levels of disappointment as you look at broken exhibit after broken exhibit.

I’ll be there!

No, that’s mean, and I’m being glib. It’s a perfectly fine way to kill an hour or two, even if everything interactive was either out of order or in the hands of a child. I shan’t open that particular wound up again. For the most part it’s about local history, so you get plenty of bits about the Tyne, about the ship-building areas, kids being sent down the mine with only a 20-deck of Capstan Full Strength and phlegm sandwiches for dinner, that sort of thing. There’s a ‘god bless them, they tried’ science lab where you can turn on lights and move handles and press buttons. It’s terrifically exciting, never quite knowing when the next yawn is coming along. We did have fun in the shadow room, mind:

I used to do my studies in here back when I was in the nearby college and I was keen to see if the little café upstairs was still the same – you used to be able to get a jacket potato the size of a sea-swollen foot with beans for £2. But of course not. No, it’s gone down the panini route like most other museum places, where you can get a panini that you could have a full shave together with eight crisps and a token bit of salad that looks like something scraped off the inside of a hamster’s cheek. Haway, shall we not. I had a sweet chilli chicken panini, Paul had coronation chicken, and I think it tells you everything you need to know that we didn’t realise until after we’d finished them that we had choken down each other’s order. That’s how fresh and flavourful they were. Harumph!

There was, at the very least, one saving grace – an exhibition devoted to our local annual funfair, The Hoppings. It promised to recreate the experience of being there, which alarmed me a bit as I didn’t fancy being ripped off by someone who owned eight caravans and seven wives, nor did I want to see Paul get shanked for successfully winning a rigged hook-a-duck game, but we went in regardless. What fun! They had a great collection of old games and creaking fruit machines and we spent a good half an hour wasting our time in there. All of the machines had been gifted to the museum for a few weeks by a group dedicated to restoring them and there was a friendly fella in there talking about them. I love anyone with proper enthusiasm and even my eyes didn’t glaze over whilst he told us about his push-a-penny machine. I was captivated! Paul had to drag me out as he’d spotted the rain that had been plaguing us all day had momentarily stopped, so we dashed out to find somewhere new.

Naturally, the heavens opened the split second those automatic days slid open and we had to dash like the two fat, breathless sods that we are to the nearby station for shelter. Gone are the days we would have cheerfully Ubered that 300 metre dash, and I can’t wait to tell you why…in time…anyway.

Paul took a moment to lead the station in a singalong around the old Joanna…

As we sat and steamed in the Central Station – a beautiful 19th century listed building ruined somewhat by 21st century bastards and the occasional spiced-up zombie – our phones buzzed and Tripadvisor recommended a nearby bar as being ‘right up our street’. It was, quite literally, so we squelched over, only pausing briefly whilst a chap I used to work with bumped into me and I spent a good two minutes trying desperately to remember who he was. Not because he was awful, you understand, but because he’d lost lots of weight and I’ve got a memory like a sieve. Is there a more awkward feeling than someone recognising you like an old chum and you not having the faintest clue? I was hoping for Paul to explosively shit himself as a distraction but his balloon-knot remained tightly clenched. Boo-shucks to him. Anyway, by the time I’d realised who he was it was time to leave, and I left feeling a right rotten bastard. Still, we had a science-themed bar to cheer me up…

…except it didn’t. I’ve genuinely never been served by someone so disinterested and with a contemptuous attitude in Newcastle. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect people to start doing the fucking can-can when we walk in but at least look up from your phone, you prissy column of hair-gel and unmerited superiority. We ordered drinks – as the only two people in there – and were served with all the interest you might give to a scab on your knee. Admittedly we ordered cocktails but we were told (lies!) that these would be fun, science based cocktails served in beakers. We got some syrupy-sweet sour nonsense mixed with tonic and a shitty look. We took our seats at the table, played with the chalk lovingly left for us:

and left before the atmosphere overcame us and we pitched ourselves through the glass windows in despair. Science? He was certainly a fucking alchemist when it came to turning joy into despair.

Luckily, Paul’s nose led us straight to the next meal, hidden away under the arches of the nearby railway. We seem to have a bit of a thing for eating under the arches of a bridge – The Herb Garden is another restaurant which has been stuffed neatly somewhere it shouldn’t, namely under the East Coast Main Line. We ate here on a whim – it was late in the afternoon and Paul was so entranced by the giant pizza oven in the window that it was a done deal before I could finish my ‘but Paul, your thighs’ sentence. We were the only ones in, but that’s purely down to the time of day – normally it’s packed solid, much like we both were afterwards. We were seated and served by a lovely friendly waitress and our food arrived in no time at all. We barely had time to work out who had the difficult job of dusting the lighting down…

We ordered the antipasti selection for two (we wanted to order it for four, but kept our dignity) and it certainly passed muster – tasty cured meats, olives far beyond the usual slop from the supermarkets and decent bread. We tried to eat slowly but it was gone before we could blink: may I stress, we’re greedy.

Given they’re famous for good pizza, we elected for a (deep breath) spinach, egg, pecorino, garlic, mozzarella, olives and basil pizza (£10) and, in a vain attempt to mitigate that cheese, we ordered a flower power chicken salad to share (£12).

They came within ten minutes of ordering and believe me when I say they were as tasty as they look. The pizza – clearly fresh and made to order – was cooked perfectly, with a big gooey egg in the middle. The salad, usually always the bridesmaid to the main meal’s bride, was a revelation to the point where we’ve tried to recreate it at home for the blog and failed miserably. The mix of textures, flavours and looks made this a dish more than capable of standing on its own. I didn’t want to share!

There’s the usual array of sides and appetizers to chomp your way through together with an extensive specials board with each dish inviting us to come back and to hell with the diet. There’s a breakfast pizza called The Fannie Farmer – who wouldn’t want to push their face into that on a weekend morning? Me. That’s who. Never been one for eating sushi off the barbershop floor. We waddled out, content, and wandered down to the High Level bridge to read the graffiti.

Read the graffiti? Why yes, and here’s some choice cuts…

       I can’t see PETA using this as a tag-line.

Brilliant stuff. There was also the usual array of rusty padlocks that people seem intent on leaving everywhere there’s a bridge. Why? I know it’s a love thing but if you feel like your love is only worthy of a view of the Ovoline Lubricants factory and the hearty stench of piss, perhaps it’s time to look again at your relationship. Anyway, we were off to hunt for a rabbit.

Hidden in a corner of Dean Street is the Vampire Rabbit – an odd little curiosity perched high above a door. Why is it odd? Because it’s a menacing looking stone rabbit with bloodied fangs. Because of course. Newcastle’s full of little eccentricities like this and I love it. The best part? It was supposed to be a cute adornment on a fancy door, but one of the owners of the building decided to make it a little more macabre by painting the sandstone. That’s my town.

The final stop on our Holiday at Home was our pre-arranged appointment at Dog and Scone, Newcastle’s first puppy restaurant. Controversial yes, but once you’ve had a puppy pizza you’ll never look back. So much meat on those little legs! Oh I’m kidding, clearly, just before anyone accosts me outside of work and throws red paint all over my best Jacamo coat. Newcastle has had a couple of cat cafes for a while now – somewhere where you can go and stroke cats with a cup of tea. I blogged about one of them and can cheerfully recommend them as a lovely way to waste an hour. But how do you upstage cats? You can’t, to be clear, but someone has opened a puppy café as an attempt to do so. Same principle – have a cup of tea and coo at the gorgeous puppies that frolic about. What next? Perhaps they’ll open a horse café. Ah that wouldn’t work – there would be nowt on the menu, but hay.

So proud of that one.

We washed our hands, took our seats and spent a lovely hour watching the dogs gambol around, chasing each other and hopefully having fun. They did look tired though, and I’ll come back to that later. There was a pug there called Laughing which I fell in love with – there’s something about saggy-jowled, snuffling, wide-eyed bags of barely-breathing flesh that I like, as my marriage to Paul demonstrates. They wrapped the pug in a towel and he fell asleep in my arms which was just lovely. Paul was given a corgi called Coffee which kept raucously farting and then looking at its own anus as if in absolute shock that such a thing could happen. If we ever get a dog Paul wants a corgi but I think that’s ridiculous – if you’re going to get a dog, get a bloody dog, not some silly bugger that looks like a roided-up cat. Oh, there was one little bitch that we didn’t like and who wasn’t on the menu – some foppish waste of skin and spunk who, upon being told the place was shutting imminently, made a fuss about getting a fresh pot of Darjeeling and that really it isn’t any bother at all for the staff to wait around whilst he finished it because he was the customer. Never before have I wanted a dog to bite someone on the bollocks so much. We left at closing time, he was still there being a bellend.

  

It did get me thinking how much money is in just buying a few dogs and a catering box of teabags from Costco and setting up a dog café of my own. Two Chubby Pups. Wags ‘n’ Fags. Puffs and Ruffs? I mean, the list is endless even if your enthusiasm isn’t. We did agree that we didn’t enjoy the puppy café as much as the cat café and let me tell you why – cats can get up on high and hide when they don’t want to be touched or handled, whereas the puppies kept going to their bed only to be picked up again and I genuinely can’t say I’m alright with that. I stress that I have no doubt that they are looked after amazingly well, but if you’re having to wake up a sleeping dog just to parade him about for photos…it left a sore taste in our mouths. Plus about half a dog’s worth of hair. We made our way home and, as usual, were greeted on the path by both cats looking nonchalant. That changed once they realised we’d been petting other animals and it was straight back to indifference and shunning and passively-aggressively licking their arseholes in front of the telly so their paws blocked the sensor on the front. Pfft.

And that’s that! Our holiday in Newcastle, done. Paul’s got some thoughts he wants to share with you all – god help us – and they’ll come next, but let me say one thing – explore your own city! We had such a fun weekend being tourists in our own city, doing things that have passed us by or that we would never normally be arsed to do because they’re on our doorstep – but here’s the thing, unless you open the door, you’ll never see them. Newcastle is an amazing city full of wonderful people – some of us have unwebbed feet, you know –  and I implore you to give our city a go. Paul will touch on it, but we’re so much more than Brown Ale, men punching police horses and Sherrul Curl, thank God. You can get a cheap hotel right in the city centre if you’re willing to go down the Premier Inn route, and then the weekend will be as expensive or as cheap as you want to make it. We’re a big city that feels compact thanks to easy walking routes and a decent Metro system and if you’re feeling adventurous, you could even step out into Northumberland to try our amazing beaches, cracking local food and rolling hills. There’s a pretty famous wall to walk along, you know, and you might even bump into Vera as she solves her crimes in that wee little hat.

If you do, try and tell her that every single sentence doesn’t need to end in ‘pet’, ‘sweetheart’ and ‘love’ and that ‘Mordor’ isn’t a crime but rather where those little hobbits destroyed a ring.

We’d love your feedback guys!


Right, let’s do this not your nacho salad, shouldn’t I? Worth the syns, trust me! Makes enough for four bowls.

to make a nacho normal salad, you’ll need:

  • 400g of extra lean beef mince – 5% or less
  • one chopped romaine lettuce mixed with rocket
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • a cucumber cut into chunks
  • a mixture of gherkins, sliced olives (25g – 2 syns)
  • one onion
  • tin of black eyed beans
  • 160g of grated extra mature lighter cheese (4 x HEA)
  • one packet of doritos (30g – 7.5 syns)
  • one carton of passata (preferably with chilli)

You can buy loads, absolutely loads, of perfect mince in our Musclefood deals where, finally, you can choose what you want to make up your hamper! No more having to compromise! Do it your way.

to make a nacho normal salad, you should:

  • chop up all your veg (bar the onion) and crush up your nachos and keep to one side, like this

  • meanwhile, chop the onion, fry it off lightly in a bit of oil until softened (or Fryshite), then add the mince and cook it off until brown
  • meanwhile again, bubble off your passata to thicken it nicely into a sauce
  • put everything into one bowl (bar the sauce) and mix it all up – then add cheese, crushed doritos and a drizzle of sauce
  • done!

Want some more inspiration? Fine! You know what to do!

beefsmallporksmalllambsmallfakeawayssmall lunchsmallpastasmall

J

perfect pork on a bed of caramelised asparagus, onion and lentils

Oh how fancy! Just a quick recipe-only post tonight because frankly, my feet hurt, my bum hurts and my finger hurts from typing so much. However, I couldn’t resist posting this stunning little recipe because I think it looks so pretty in the picture. It’s good timing to post a ‘posh’ meal because I (somewhat gently) got called a snob yesterday for badmouthing Benidorm and it made me think – I’m the least snobbish person I know, but then I only move in certain circles. When you’re as fat as me, those circles are called orbits, by the way. I don’t care how much someone earns or owns and I find the more they brag about those things, the less interesting they are as a person.

Anyway, the reason for me mentioning this is because I’m reminded of a story I heard somewhere and it tickles me every single time I think about it. He recounts a quiet Sunday at home with his family having Sunday lunch when they all become aware of quite the commotion happening across the street. A fire engine comes tearing into the street and firemen pile out and dash into a house. His dad, being nosy, wanders outside to have a look, where he’s met by the next door neighbour who was the type who would make the Queen look like a dole-scrounger.

“I wonder what’s going on”, says the neighbour, to which his dad replied “I don’t know – perhaps it’s a chip pan fire”.

The lady turned to him and looked straight down her nose:

“Chips?”, she spat, aghast.

“On a Sunday?”

Aaaah I love that so much. I grew up in a village with more than its fair share of people like that – people who thought because they had a barely-affordable mortgage and a car the size of a cargo train they were better than anyone else. Pfft!

Anyway this isn’t going to be a quick-post if I don’t get to the recipe so without a moment more of hesitation, let’s rattle off the perfect pork with caramelised onion…this recipe makes enough for two large portions. Which you love, because you’re a filthy bugger.

to make perfect pork on a bed of caramelised asparagus, onion and lentils, you’ll need:

  • two excellent pork loin chops, no fat – we bought ours from Tesco for £3.50 – we’re not fancy
  • 250g of asparagus
  • two large white onions
  • 250g of cooked puy lentils (we buy Merchant Gourmet ones from the shop – 2 syns for 250g)
  • 1 tablespoon of caster sugar (3 syns)

We used an Optigrill for our chops – only because it’s such a doddle to chuck the chop in and let it cook itself, but you absolutely don’t need to buy one for this recipe – a pan will do. You’ll even get those pretty sear marks if you move it to and fro a bit. If you do want an Optigrill, you can buy them on Amazon and read our review here.

to make perfect pork on a bed of caramelised asparagus, onion and lentils, you should:

  • read this whole recipe before you start, as you’ll have a couple of pans on the go at once
  • peel and finely slice the onion – put in a good non-stick pan with a splosh of oil or a few sprays of olive oil, sprinkle over the caster sugar and a pinch of salt, pop the lid on and shake that pan for all your worth – this gets a bit of oil on all of the onion
  • cook on a low to medium heat with the lid on until the onions are slightly golden and soft – it does take a while, but don’t rush it
  • meanwhile, peel your asparagus to remove the stringy skin and then snap it in two – if you bend it gently, it’ll snap at just the right place
  • just as your onions take on a bit of colour, time to cook your pork:
    • we cooked ours in the Optigrill: turned it on, chose the pork chop setting, waited until it was ready to cook, chucked the pork in with a brushing of worcestershire sauce, cooked it until the machine told us to stop, done!
    • haven’t got an Optigrill – don’t worry a jot, you can use a normal griddle pan, frying pan or cook it on a sunburned shoulder for all I care – whatever you do, apply heat until the meat is cooked – I mean, it’s that easy
  • about ten minutes before the pork is done, chuck the asparagus in with the onion – if things are a bit sticky, loosen it up with a wee bit of water
  • just before you’re about to serve, heat your lentils through and plate up

Done! Want more inspiration? Sure thing, cheesenips. You know what to do.

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J

cookies and cream overnight oats

Cookies and cream overnight oats! I know, right? We were going to do one of those giant milkshakes that you see floating about but having worked out the syns, we didn’t want to be responsible for Mags having one of her ‘moments’ by her hi-fi bar-shaped pool in Benidorm. So we’ve toned it down and made an overnight oats recipe instead. It’s tasty! However, before we get there, there’s the next part of our trip to Newcastle to read about. Now listen, if you’re not in the mood to read our travel tales, that’s fine. You just need to click on the GIANT BORING TOOL below to be whisked straight to the recipe!

I know, what a stinker! Still with me? Then let us begin…oh and I’m sorry this one is taking ages to rattle through, but when I’m talking about the place I love, words just aren’t enough…please give us feedback. Am I getting the tone right?

part one | part two | part three | part four | part five

We awoke bright and breezy at a very respectable 9am and after a quick tidy of the room to ensure that we haven’t left anyone behind that could reasonably be considered fair game for a hotel guest to steal (Paul has to slap my hands away from unscrewing the light fittings and rolling up the carpet) we were out of our room and in reception in good time. The receptionist gave us a ‘you sure, you fat fucker’ look when I told her we had managed to avoid eating anything from the minibar and we settled our room service tab. We’d only had a round of sandwiches and some fizzy water so it came to an entirely reasonable £89,645.

I’ll cheerfully recommend the Hotel du Vin if you’re looking for somewhere fancy-ish to stay. They’re a chain and very aware of themselves, but the bed was comfortable and the room well-appointed. And just think: if you book it now, you might get the same bed as me and you can drift off to the sweet scent of sweet-potato farts and Tom Ford. Careful if you’re ovulating though, two young lads full of the joys of spring inevitably means things were squirted about that might not have caught the eye of the cleaner.

We parked the Smart car under where I work (the joys of working in the city centre: always have a parking space whilst everyone is outside fighting to the death at Christmas) and walked down to the Tyneside Cinema café for breakfast. Now, perhaps a cinema café puts you in mind of the farty smell of popcorn and pick-and-mix with a higher price-per-kg point than saffron but not this place: the food is superb. In a desperate attempt to put right the misdeeds of the night before, we opted for a late breakfast of…

Steak Benedict for me…

…eggs royale for the Missus.

The steak was a decent cut cooked perfectly, with the accompanying hollandaise sauce light and silky rather than the gelatinous jizzy goop that so often gets passed off as a perfect poached-egg partner. Sriracha hot sauce was a nice touch, if only so I could feel alive again. Paul’s salmon was even better judging by the eye-rolling and curious noises he was making. It would have been too obvious to shout out ‘I’ll have what HE’S having’ in a cinema-themed eaterie, so I kept my mouth shut.

Oh! There was a brief but terribly exciting moment just as we were settling up when a somewhat bewildered looking chap came and started banging on the window, arguing with his own reflection. He clearly wasn’t very well but it created a peculiar situation where we had to fuss about with the sugar cubes and the card reader whilst someone screamed spittle onto the window right beside my ear. I felt like an exhibit in a furious zoo. Ah Newcastle, never change.

The plan was to do some shopping but frankly, I see enough of the shops on my lunchtime during the week to warrant me never deciding to go there for pleasure on a weekend. We did stop into Fenwick to look at expensive aftershave I’ll never have and TVs the size of buses, but that’s about it. It’s unusual for me to leave Fenwick without smelling like I’ve been swimming in ladies’ perfume – I go there most lunches with El Ehma and I’m often caught in the airburst from her enthusiastic ‘testing’. Fun fact: her skin is now 90% Creed Aventus For Her. She had to give up smoking before she went up like a roman candle.

Pictured is a statue of Saint Robson Green who protects the Haymarket bus station. The inscription reads ‘haway man, lerrus in man y’awld bitch, I knaa there’s nee busses runnin, d’yis think ah’m a daft c*nt like

The Church of St Thomas, taken by the phone of Saint James

Abandoning the shopping idea, much to the collective relief of the beancounters at First Direct and American Express, we instead lumbered up Northumberland Street to the Hancock Museum, where excitement and tat-buying awaited. I’ve only been here once on a school trip and that was cut short when one of the teachers fell down two flights of stairs and had to be taken away in an ambulance. We never did finish learning about roman pottery and she never walked again, so really, who suffered most? It’s OK, I’m kidding – of course we finished our pottery lessons – they got a supply teacher in.

“Someone should iron you”

The Hancock is a lovely little museum as it happens. Plenty for kids to do – there’s interactive boards they can wreck with their sticky fingers, quiet reflection halls which they can ruin with their shrill fire-alarm voices and there’s even a very well-stocked kids play area which they can totally ignore in favour of running around your legs and shrieking. Honestly, the sooner they make it legal to pack children away into broom cupboards and disused corridors the better. I spotted an old colleague of mine who I used to work with more than a few years ago and with whom I shared a mutual hatred of each other with, so I pulled Paul into the planetarium to avoid her.

She once reported me to HR for laughing too much, I kid you not. I (ironically) had the last laugh though – she got made redundant before me when they shut the quango I worked for down. I tried not to smirk too much as she struggled through her tears to pack her leaving box. I would have helped but hey, she was the worst.

The planetarium was a bust, mind. There was me thinking we’d be exploring the universe together, gasping and whooing as stars rattled past our ears and planets loomed large before us. I mean, it’s a planetarium. You’ll understand my confusion then when I tell you we were treated to a movie all about prehistoric sea creatures that was produced and dispatched back in 2002. In this era of ultra-HD TV when you can actually see the smarm oozing out of Piers Morgan’s nose pores like mash through a ricer it was a proper shock – it was as pixellated as watching the Discovery Channel projected onto a live game of Tetris. We persevered for about ten minutes before promptly falling asleep, only waking forty minutes later when the credits rolled and the lights came back on. Thankfully, aside from the chap sitting at the door in case any fire / excitement / interest broke out, we were alone in our snoring and sleep-farting.

We wandered around for another hour or so, thankfully avoiding my old nemesis. Absolute full credit to the Hancock Museum – it’s a very decent place with plenty of interesting exhibitions and unusually, isn’t dumbed down for the kiddiwinks. I showed my appreciation by dropping a note into the donations box instead of my usual 2p and washer. Paul was aghast.

As a leathery, ancient, black-toothed, beast that terrifies men and is the very last thing you want to see coming at you in the dark, Paul’s mother also likes dinosaurs.

Random question but can anyone identify this actress? She’s famous, I recognise the face, but I’ll be damned if I can put a name to her.

We decided that as we were on a particular roll with the museums that we’d give the Discovery Museum a go, but not before stopping into nearby pub The Hotspur for more booze. Good selection of ales and beer in here, though that meant nothing to Paul as he primly ordered a gin and tonic. The man knows what he wants, I suppose, but it was match day and I confess to being worried about leaving through the window once they realised we were imposters in that masculine world. Actually, it was probably the fact that we were shrieking our way through a game of Kerplunk that would give that particular gayme away.

The key is knowing the right moment when to pull out so you don’t blow your load too early.

The pub had lovingly left some board games on the side to play and, being a huge fan of sticking my rod in and making the balls jiggle, Kerplunk was the obvious choice. I won, and I won the subsequent game of Connect 4 too. Paul’s got all the subtlety of a hot fart at a funeral so the Kerplunk victory was inevitable, but he must have taken his eye off the ball with Connect 4 as he’s usually victorious.

To be fair to him mind, his eyes do work completely independently of each other, so that’s not entirely unexpected.

I had forgotten that I played a game of Connect 4 against John Savident, but here’s the proof.

Now, actually, we’re getting away from ourselves again. Let’s close this post off for tonight and get to the recipe. Hey though, if you’ve read this far, I’d love feedback on the holiday entries – please do leave a comment or email me or whatever. Feedback always welcomed!


Right! Ready for cookies and cream overnight oats? You filthy bugger, of course you are!

 

to make cookies and cream overnight oats, you’ll need:

  • 40g of oats – any old oats will do and now Slimming World gives you 40g to wrap your lips around, instead of just 35g – I bet you feel spoiled now, don’t you? Try and remain humble
  • a vanilla with chocolate sprinkles Muller Light (syn free) – or, if you’re not a fan of all that fake sugar and aspartame, mix 1 tsp of bournville cocoa powder (1 syn) into whatever yoghurt you use – we use Skyr because we’re just so cosmopolitan
  • two Oreo thins (3 syns)
  • Anchor squirty light cream – (1 syn for 12.5g – I’ve just nipped into the kitchen to see how much that is and let me tell you, it’s a really big, enthusiastic squirt) (you do the jokes)

A lot of people ask if these overnight oats recipes need to go in a jar. Nah. Honestly, any old shite will do – as long as you mix them together, you could serve them alongside a single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man’s hat and nobody would bat an eye.

That said, there’s a nice set on Amazon if you need them!

to make cookies and cream overnight oats, you should:

  • mix 40g of oats, a good dollop of yoghurt and one crushed up Oreo together and put in the jar
  • I like to top it off with a little bit more yoghurt on top
  • now, I like to eat it straight away so I add the squirty cream and stick the Oreo in and then eat, but if you prefer to leave it overnight, do, and then add the squirty cream in the morning along with your Oreo and eat!

I’m just saying, but a couple of extra Oreos isn’t going to turn you into ten tonne tessie, so if you were planning on adding a few more crushed up, I’ll never tell…

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J

syn free split pea and ham soup

Ready for the syn free split pea and ham soup? No worries. You can use an Instant Pot, slow cooker or a hob. But I need to moan first! If you want to go straight to the recipe and skip the writing, it’s simple: just click on the MISERABLE COW just below. Go on, why not.

It seems a little unfair and rash of me to wish to strike all children from the face of the Earth like a mincing King Herod, but see, I was stuck behind a car full of someone’s crotchgoblins this morning for 40 minutes whilst the traffic slugged down the A1, choking as it was with the massive load of extra cars on the road now that you and your lovely children are back on the road. 40 minutes is a long time to fake enthusiastic waves and wan smiles at snotty-nosed children for whom looking out of the back window and pulling faces is infinitely more fun than sitting still and being silent. I was already in a poor mood because:

  • it’s Monday;
  • it’s Monday;
  • it’s still Monday; and
  • thanks to the children of Earth collectively going back to school today, I had to leave the house at 7.30am instead of 8.30am and that meant getting out of bed early.

There’s only one reason gay, childless men get out of bed early and that’s to fetch the lube from the chiller. Our normal routine consists of a gentle alarm going off at 7 which we snooze for two ten minute period before my phone alarm goes off, announcing the time in a cold, robotic voice. That’s Paul’s cue to get out of bed, put the coffee on and go for his shower. I’ll deign to rise about 7.40am, once I’ve been assured that there’s a warm coffee and a hot shower waiting for me. Stay longer than that and I’ll get a cold reception and a frozen willy. I can then lounge about luxuriantly for an hour or so, cultivating my daily farts and working on my yawns, whilst Paul dashes about feeding the cats and dismantling the alarms like he’s on an automatic lock-in on the Crystal Maze. It’s marvellous.

But no, not anymore. Now I have to rise, shower, shave and shite (forever careful not to get my hands mixed up, I think work would disapprove if I turned up with a Dirty Sanchez and a bleeding arse) as though there’s a bomb strapped to my gunt and only getting onto the A1 before half seven will defuse it. It’s just awful. You know who is to blame? Your children. No it’s really that simple: I’m sure they’re lovely and all, with their moon eyes and higgedly-piggedly baby teeth, but you really ought to have just stopped at that seventh Campari and not given in to your carnal urges so many years ago. That way the roads would be clear, I’d be able to bask in my own bed-sweat until a reasonable hour and everyone would be happy.

Actually, let’s just build a lane on the side of each road for gays without children. I can use some of the pink pound that my pockets are so awash with. Perhaps call it the Marmite Motorway, or the Backseat Driver Lane. Pink Lane. We’re nearly there. We’d have hard shoulders every 100 yards with AA men built like hi-vis hot water tanks to tend to our exhaust pipes and steamy radiators. Ah, a boy can dream.

Anyway, I posted something along all of the above in our group this morning and got roundly supported by all those who could tell I was being facetious. I don’t actually hate children. How could I? They’re going to grow up and be the ones spooning cabbage soup into my mouth and putting me in front of Countdown. I received a terse riposte from a stern looking woman with eleven o’clock shadow telling me that perhaps my mother should have kept her legs shut.

Pfft: good luck with that. I’ve been telling her that for 31 years and it still hasn’t made a difference.  They don’t call her Can-Can-Christine for nowt, you know.

Speaking of split peas, let’s rattle off this recipe. Can you tell we are trying to use our Instant Pot more? It’s because we will forget how good it is until we use it again, then we can’t get enough. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you we made this soup three nights in a row. It’s beautiful, and a cheap, easy soup to make. Admittedly it doesn’t photograph well: I’m more than aware it looks like I’ve already ate it all, passed it and photoed it, but please, trust me when I tell you it’s tasty. There’s an added bonus – if you leave it overnight to go cold it sets like gorgeous pease pudding, which you’d expect given it’s made from split peas. Don’t know what pease pudding is? Get out of my life.

As always with our recipes, you don’t need to buy an expensive bit of kit to make them. An Instant Pot (or any pressure cooker) will make this recipe quick and easy, but you can do it in a slow cooker or even on the hob. We cover all possibilities below. We do recommend an Instant Pot simply because they’re a doddle to use and we’re finding more and more uses for it – you can buy the one we use here. Or at least have a look, and start leaving clues around the house or office for loved ones that you need to let off steam, or some such other shite.

to make instant pot split pea and ham soup you will need:

for the stock:

  • 800g-1kg ham joint (if using gammon remember to soak it overnight to remove some of the saltiness)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

for the soup:

  • 500g dried split peas
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  •  2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf

Hey, if you buy a bigger joint of ham and don’t want to use it all in here, you can use some in our carbonara quiche or proper egg and ham quiche!

to make instant pot split pea and ham soup you should:

  • this needs to be done in two stages – don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it looks, I promise!
  • chuck all of the stock ingredients into the instant pot along with 2.5 litres of cold water. Cook under high pressure for one hour, and then use the natural release method
  • Lift the ham out of the pot and strain the rest so you’re left with the liquid – this is the stock you’ll need for the next bit…
  • next, add all of the soup ingredients into the instant pot along with 1.5 litres of the stock that you’ve just drained off
  • use a couple of forks to pull apart the ham, this won’t take much doing. chuck that in the pot too
  • cook for twenty minutes at high pressure, then use the quick-release method to get to it quicker
  • eat!

you can make this without a pressure cooker if you want to:

  • place all of the stock ingredients into a large stockpot with two litres of water and simmer for two hours
  • lift out the ham joint and strain out all of the solids so you’re left with just the liquid stock
  • next, heat a frying pan over a medium high heat with a little oil and cook the carrot, celery and onion from the soup ingredients until softened (which’ll take about five minutes), add the garlic in the last 30 seconds or so
  • slow cooker: put the veg into a slow cooker along with the bay leaf, peas and stock and cook on high for 3-4 hours (or low for 6-8). Add the shredded ham about half-way through
  • hob: just let everything bubble gently away together, keep an eye on it, until thickened!
  • eat!

We make sure that all our recipes are easy, just like us! Click one of the buttons below to find even more recipes!

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J

oh so fancy Slimming World prawn cocktail wraps

Expecting fancy Slimming World prawn cocktail wraps? But of course you are – who wouldn’t? It’s a rare recipe of ours that uses seafood AND gasp, barricade your front door, we’re also using avocado. You’ll get people who refuse to syn avocado – we’re two of them, actually – but I’ve counted the syns on here for ease.

Now, because we’re trying to make it easier for folks who just want to go straight to the recipe and avoid all the (hopefully) funny bits, we’re including a button on the longer entries to make it easier for you. If you just want the recipe, go ahead and click on the OLD BAG and you’ll be taken straight there.

Pfft, what a poor sport! Right, let’s crack on with our holiday at home in Newcastle! Last time you we were us we were full of food and ale from The Tyne Pub. The day continues…


 

part one | part two | part three | part four

Full as a bull’s bum and more than a little tipsy, we careered gently into the road and along the quayside to the Baltic, a world-class art gallery built inside an old flour factory.

You may recall that neither of us put much stock in art galleries – we’re about as cultured as the fluff in your belly button – but by god we try in the hope that one day we’ll have an epiphany. A chin-stroking, soiled-corduroy wearing epiphany. It didn’t happen. There was an exhibition…in fact, fuck it, have a look for yourself:

I mean, come on – I know I’m a complete philistine but that’s just shite, isn’t it? It looks like the far reaches of a factory explosion. We wandered around, reading the placards earnestly and hmming a lot, but it was tosh. This will be the final time I ever talk about visiting a modern art gallery on here because it infuriates me. Possibly because I don’t understand, possibly because I tire of trying to wrap my head around stuff that I’m 90% sure someone has just thrown together for a bet, I don’t know. There was a room with a rock hanging from the ceiling over a balloon, supposedly to represent how frail people can bear huge burdens. Pfft. I didn’t dare stand still for too long in case people thought my frail, fat ankles, bearing a huge burden as they do, were part of the exhibition and start drawing me in watercolours. Paul blundered about grunting for a good half hour, equally as disdained as I was.

Nice views though.

 

Next on the tour of the toon was Lane 7, which is a super fancy bowling alley ever-so-beloved of every ‘inspired’ work do from Darlington to Berwick. Seriously, there was a time when if you wanted to bowl, the only chance of getting an opportunity was to train as an estate agent / lawyer / accountant / professional bumfluff moustache grower and hope to be invited to a networking event. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I don’t need to network in my job – it’s all I can do to acknowledge my own reflection when I wash my hands after a piss. However, a new gin bar opened a year or so ago and that seems to have soaked up the ‘corporate do’ crowd, so it wasn’t too busy when we arrived.

I say not too busy, there were two hen parties in there shrieking like their dresses were on fire – and boy does that noise ricochet in a bowling alley. Bowling seemed like an unusual activity for lasses on a hen party to enjoy, not least because it’s usually later on in Newcastle when their pins get split and someone goes at them balls-deep in an alley. Anyway, they were lost in a mist of Impulse and Blue WKD and we were straight on to bowl. It’s a very sleek, very modern alley – not the usual verruca-soaked shoes and sticky floors, but rather lots of wood and lights and fanciness.

I won, as you’d expect, and to celebrate I sent Paul to the bar to get us some mystery drinks. He came back with two bottles of Hooch. Hooch! A bloody alcopop. I had to remind him that we weren’t at a school disco but actually, isn’t it weird how just one taste of something sends you back to being 13 and full of burgeoning puberty-fuelled hormones? It’s why I can’t bear the taste of communion wafer.

Anyway, all the sugar from the Hooch made Paul come back from behind (story of his life) and he took the second round. We were being tight so had only sprung for a couple of games so we had to settle it once and for all with a round of mini-golf. Happily Lane7 had not only thought of a very clever name (try writing it out and turning it upside down – won’t work if you haven’t progressed beyond bubble writing) but had also had the foresight to build a mini golf course in the basement.

We were straight down the stairs but again, I was left disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – it’s cool to have a mini-golf course to play on, but it was small and had no obstacles. Do you not understand how much I yearn to shoot in a clown’s mouth, or knock my balls around a tricky tunnel? For the thousandth time in our marriage I managed to put Paul off his stroke by fluffing an easy finish, and yet he finished victorious. I hate it when Paul wins anything, he has perfected just the right level of smugness in his ‘oh it was nothing’ face that really ires me. He knows it too, that’s what makes it worse. I choked back ten years of resentment and hatred as black as pitch and we requested an Uber back to the hotel.

I say we requested – we did, and it took the chap twenty minutes to navigate no more than 600m of road – we watched him drive up and down without stopping, turning at the top and coming back. We tried waving him down but no success. To this day we have no idea what his game was – perhaps it was like when a plane has to land with failed landing gear, he was burning off fuel to compensate for our fatness sliding in – but when he eventually turned up he didn’t have the good grace to apologise. Actually, perhaps he did apologise, I confess my Afrikaans to be somewhat lacking. It took us another twenty minutes to get to the hotel as he had no idea of the roads and seemed intent on ignoring both the sat-nav in the front and the fat-navs in the back, all of us giving gentle, strained instruction to his sweet, unopened ears. It was like being on one of those Hop-on-Hop-off buses, only with the scent of a Yankee Candle vent air-freshener burning our nostrils.

I wanted to try the Cigar Shack but Paul didn’t fancy listening to me gasping and wheezing through the night so he stamped on that idea. Doesn’t seem to mind when it’s me having to listen to him choke on his own fat-collar. Pfft. So, we napped, rutted and changed our clothes (well, you have to make an effort on holiday, no?) and set off for our final venue of the evening – The Stand Comedy Club. I’ve been before as part of a works night out and it was brilliant fun, but this was Paul’s first time. Not his first time laughing – he’s seen me naked bending down to pick up a coin off our tiled bathroom floor – but certainly his first comedy club.

The plan had always been to eat upstairs but actually, by the time I had roused Paul from the land of nod, there was no time to eat properly, so instead we got a burger that dripped all over our faces and chips to dip in our cider. We had great seats, near enough the front to see the strained smiles, far enough at the back for the comedians not to pick on us and make mean-spirited jokes about my effete mannerisms and Paul’s tits.

And oh, what a night! Perhaps we were lucky but there wasn’t a bad act out of the four that trooped on, whose name I can’t remember but whose jokes I’d steal if I thought I could get away with it. I have so much respect for anyone who can stand in front of a crowd of unfamiliar folk and make them laugh and all of the acts managed it. The guy introducing the acts has probably the hardest job of the lot given he’s got a cold audience but the whole room was awash with proper hearty laughing. The only duff note came from a young lass whose whole act consisted of trying to be kooky – there’s an awful feeling of awkwardness when jokes don’t land – but hey, she had bigger balls than me for getting up there in the first place.

Best comedian of the night was a local lad called Mike Milligan – he writes for our local Chronicle newspaper (he’s about the only one on their staff who does) and was full of local reflections delivered in a proper Geordie language. Everything sounds hilarious when it’s spoken by a Geordie – I’m surprised they haven’t thought to add a laugh-track onto episodes of Vera. Paul finds the language especially comical, presumably because he’s from Peterborough where they haven’t progressed away from grunting and crude hand gestures. If I ever need to break up with him I’ll just tell him ‘way ah’m filin’ fer a divorss ye bastard‘ in my very best ripped-off-her-tits Denise Welch voice and he’ll be slapping his knees whilst Pickfords load the telly into the lorry.

We drank loads from the cheap bar, laughed until I genuinely had chest pains, and had a great night out. If you’re looking for something different to do in Newcastle, or indeed your own city, dig out a comedy club. Everyone likes to laugh. ACTUALLY, that’s not strictly true. I invited someone I used to work with to a comedy club for a night only to be told ‘I don’t like comedy’. Ah yes, that old chestnut. Isn’t that like saying you don’t like wanking or eating? Pfft.

With aching sides and straining bladders we requested another Uber who, thankfully, knew what and where he was going – he drove that taxi like he had a bomb under the passenger seat but by god we were in the hotel and in bed in no time at all. Paul and I that is, not the Uber driver, though he did look the sort to be a rough lover and a kind cuddler. Ah well, maybe next time. Goodnight!


Right, shall we get to the wraps, eh? This makes enough for four.

fancy Slimming World prawn cocktail wraps

fancy Slimming World prawn cocktail wraps

to make fancy Slimming World prawn cocktail wraps you will need:

  • 4x Weight Watchers white wraps – or you know, use some common sense and get a similar wrap in terms of calories and fibre and you’ll be fine
  • 150g cooked prawns
  • 1 ripe avocado (14 syns)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 little gem lettuce
  • 1 tbsp extra-light mayonnaise (1 syn)
  • 1 tbsp Hellman’s Tomato Sauce sweetened with Honey (½ syn, normal tomato sauce is fine – just add on an extra ½ syn)
  • half a cucumber

At the time of writing there’s a big fuss on about those wraps because by spooning corned beef and potato into them, you’ve inexplicably made a cornish pastie. If you’re struggling to find them because some biffer has put 100 packets into her trolley, just use something similar. For ease, I’m synning these at 3.5 syns a wrap, but actually about 3.75. If you’re that anal, though, re-examine your bloody life!

to make fancy Slimming World prawn cocktail wraps you should:

  • slice the avocado and scoop out all the lovely flesh, mash in a bowl and mix in the lemon juice so it doesn’t go manky
  • next, mix together the prawns, mayonnaise and tomato sauce and set aside
  • pull off the leaves from the lettuce and give a quick wash
  • slice the cucumber into ribbons using a peeler
  • assemble the wrap by spreading over a quarter of the avocado mix, topped with the prawns, and then the leaves and the cucumber

We know avocado is a controversial choice – if you want to make this skinnier, just slap on some light Philadelphia instead

Still hungry? Get clicking any of the buttons below to find more of our recipes!

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J

instant pot spaghetti bolognese

Just a quick post tonight because, for once, we’ve kept our word and managed to get round to updating the recipes page to include an instant pot section! Remember, for all of our instant pot recipes, you can use a normal pressure cooker or a pan on the hob – you don’t need to buy an expensive bit of kit for our stuff!

Updated recipes section here – it’ll open in a new window.

Cheers folks! Tomorrow will be a full post!

instant pot spaghetti bolognese

instant pot spaghetti bolognese

to make instant pot spaghetti bolognese you will need:

  • 400g lean beef mince (save pennies and get delicious meat by taking advantage of our excellent Musclefood deals!)
  • 500g spaghetti
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced (one of the handiest things you can have in the kitchen is one of these)
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ pepper
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 500ml passata
  • anything else you want to chuck in – bacon, mushroom, family ashes

Looking for a pot? They’re cheap on Amazon at the moment.

to make instant pot spaghetti bolognese you should:

  • set the instant pot to saute and add a splash of oil
  • add the onion and cook for a few minutes until it goes soft
  • chuck in the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so
  • add the mince and cook until browned all over
  • add in the chopped tomatoes, passata, salt, pepper and oregano and give a good stir
  • break the spaghetti in half and chuck in the pan along with a litre of water – make sure the spaghetti is covered – push it down with a spoon if it isn’t
  • cook at high pressure for ten minutes, then use the ‘quick release’ to get it in your belly quicker
  • don’t worry if it looks a bit watery when you first open it – it’ll soon thicken up when you give it a good stir
  • serve!

You can easily make this using a normal pressure cooker – just cook the mince and onion in a pan first before transferring to the pressure cooker, where you’ll need to cook it for 8 minutes. Haven’t got an instant pot? Make it the same way but in two pans, for a dead simple bolognese!

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proper cheesy crunchy chicken parmo

Chicken parmo! We’ve done something similar but really cracked it with this one. A parmo is a dish originating from Middlesbrough consisting of a chicken breast smothered in breadcrumbs and cheese sauce. Plus other things – knowing Middlesbrough there’s probably about 5g of Golden Virginia scattered over it – but this is a close approximation. Bloody tasty too. But first…

Sorry, sorry – you guessed it, we’ve been away again, and it’s not as though I can announce it on here before I go because we’d doubtless get some reprobate with teeth à l’orange nipping in to steal our silver and verbally abuse our Alexa. I mean honestly. Plus, I’m writing this against the odds because I have a cat sat in front of me blocking half the screen and severely burned shoulders from too much sun. Before I get angry letters, I know I know: normally I’m super careful, but the drink overtook me. You’ll find out more about that holiday later down the line but let’s rattle off the next part of the Newcastle entry without a moment more of hesitation. If you don’t want to hear our holiday shenanigans, click on the SOUR GRAPES to be taken straight to the recipe.

Otherwise…

Now when I last spoke to you we had been busy exploring the Victoria Tunnel and I had made a malicious, mean comment comparing this foisty cavern to Paul’s mother. I apologise for my humour:  it’s a bit stuck in the eighties, it rarely makes people laugh and god knows Paul’s sick of hearing it, but that’s Paul’s mother for you.

We emerged blinking into the sunlight and full of zim for the day ahead. But first: MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Paul had decided to wear a snappy new pair of ‘yes, I am part of a senior citizen tour group of Milton Keynes’ cargo shorts (in a very fetching chyme colour) and the two hours of walking and sweating had left his thighs looking like a child’s skinned knees. Whilst it explained why the tour guide had asked the group if someone was cooking bacon at the back, it also meant we couldn’t easily explore. Well, no, I could, but it meant having to listen to Paul’s plaintive mewing about the paaaaaaaain. Oh, the pain. We doubled back to the hotel, levered ourselves into the Smart car and cut a dash straight to Byker Morrisons.

You must understand that I avoid Morrisons at the best of times – something about their lurid yellow signage and cluttered font makes my nipples ache – but the one in Byker is especially bad. You’ve never seen so much red flesh pressed into mixed polyester. We took a moment to peruse the medicine aisle for something that would cool Paul’s thighs – my suggestion of a Muller yoghurt was ignored (BUT IT’S SYN FREE) – and after much stumbling around the haemmorhoid creams and the clotstoppers, he found some lanacaine. We nipped into the gents (you know a supermarket is classy when they have that lovely lighting that makes it impossible to find a vein to shoot up with) and smeared it on Paul’s thighs like butter on a cellulite crumpet. They say you can still hear his satisfied groan bouncing around the arches of Glasshouse Bridge.

The day was ours once more. We parked the car back at the hotel and decided to try and find The Kiln, a restaurant hidden up in the Ouseburn. After a few arresting detours via a gym, a scrapyard and this particularly great bit of graffiti:

we found it. Bearing in mind it was hot and we’d spent all morning traipsing through a tunnel, we were starving and ready for our thirst to be slaked and so the sight of lots of bottles of beer all lined-up ready was enough to bring on a stiffy. However, that sharp went away when we were faced with incredibly dismissive and half-hearted service – we stood at the (quiet) bar for a good couple of minutes before we were served, weren’t offered the food menu, weren’t told where we could sit, weren’t advised on anything other than “£11” when we ordered two beers. Here, we’re the least demanding customers you’ll ever have and because we get anxious about causing a fuss we tip extravangantly, but even we have limits, and being treated like an inconvenience is high up that list.

Also, £11 for two beers? Local yes, but haway hinny, it’s Newcastle, not St. Moritz – if I buckled my ears enough I’d be able to hear the sound of a live Jeremy Kyle show rattling in the Byker Wall. Nevermind…

We paid and, sensing that we couldn’t have been less welcome had I shat on the bar, we made our way outdoors, taking the only free seats (after moving the previous occupants dishes out of the way) next to a particularly loathsome set of students. Listen, I’ve made it my thing this year to stop judging folk, I am trying, I promise. But Jesus Christ Almighty. These weren’t decent students, fun students or you know, normal students, but rather the rah-rah-raaaah set. Some walking shitshower was loudly describing his poster project as ‘mere organic foreplay for the main thrust of the movie’ – Paul had to hold me back from drowning myself in the half inch of hipster-hops I had left. Someone else was going on and on about her periods in that inexcusable ‘look at me, saying something controversial so you have to look at me, but oh my god don’t look at me’ way. Here’s a thing, pet: no-one cares what sloughs out of you, no-one is impressed by your edginess, and your glasses look like you’ve rushed out of an eye-exam halfway through. Fuck off.

We supped up and left – I took my time though as I wanted to make sure I had a fart queued as I stood up. I left them to chew that over. In the interest of balance, the online reviews of the Kiln are exceptionally positive, so maybe we’d crashed a wake or something.

Luckily, the next two places were infinitely better. First, the Free Trade Inn. I love this place – it used to be our local when we lived on the Quayside and is just a great pub – dirt cheap, no fussiness, the occasional local who looks as though he’d punch your nose through the back of your head if you sneezed and blew the head off his pint from across the room – spectacular. Nothing better than a room full of malcontent and meanness, though I tend to switch to pints instead of campari when ordering. Up until recently they had adopted a pub cat called Craig David. You’ll notice a past tense there. Life’s cruel. It also have a terrific view, see?

We had a couple of gins and tonics there and stumbled down the stairs, a bit squiffy at this point, to The Tyne, a pub under the arches of the bridge above it. We were starving by now, so I sent Paul in with strict instructions to order something a) bountiful and b) healthy. He ordered us nachos for two that almost filled the table and the vietnamese loaded fries that we ripped off a week or so ago.

There was also some sort of citrus beer involved, and things start getting a little hazy at this point, like a badly-tuned TV. I heartily recommend both pubs though – The Tyne also a free jukebox which Paul had to hold me back from. I’ve had two bad experiences with free jukeboxes, would you believe:

  • my friend and I got into a proper physical (one-sided mind, I’m a gentleman) scrap with two busty lesbians in a gay bar when we ‘accidentally’ switched the machine off and on again when we couldn’t bear to hear sapphic-superanthem ‘Left Outside Alone’ by Anastasia for the eighth time in a row; and
  • different friend, similar situation, only this time I queued up Abba song after Abba song in a bar where the inhabitants had one full set of teeth between all twenty of them – it was very much a Meat Loaf, Foreigner and Whitesnake bar – not a drunken rendition of Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) sort of place. We escaped into the night, drowned out by shouting and Anni-Frid caterwauling her lips around Knowing Me, Knowing You.

Probably for the best that Paul kept me back.

 

We ended up sharing our outside table with a few other pleasant, decent young people with an adorable dog, though I could have done without them vaping away next to me as I ploughed my way through the nachos. Difficult trying to get the guacamole to chilli ratio just right in a cloud of custard-flavoured steam, I find.

Now, let’s leave it there – we’re already nearing 1500 words again and we need to get the recipe out!


Chicken parmo, then. Dead easy.



to make proper cheesy crunchy chicken parmo you will need:

I put this down as 1ish syns as well, I’m not synning that errant quarter. Up to you how you want to do it. And yes, I’m wheeling this out again:

WHASS PANKO PLZ HUN. I beg of you, if you have that question, click this mysterious link… Panko is not this:

to make proper cheesy crunchy chicken parma you should:

  • preheat the oven to 200°c
  • spray the chicken breasts with a little oil and plop onto a baking sheet
  • cook in the oven for about 10 minutes, then remove
  • butterfly the chicken breasts by cutting through the side until nearly all the way through, then spread open like a book (they might be pink in the middle – that’s fine)
  • in a bowl, mix together the Philadelphia and garlic, and a good grind of both salt and pepper
  • spoon the mixture onto chicken breasts and spread about
  • in another bowl, mix together the panko and parmesan, and sprinkle evenly over each of the chicken breasts
  • return to the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden

Given it’s normally served with chips, red sauce and a fingering, we had to dial it back to make it more friendly for dieting, so we’ve served ours with a portion of our amazing roasties and some beans. Champion.

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Cheers!

J

caramelised Vietnamese pork and rice

I bet you’ve stumbled here expecting caramelised Vietnamese pork and rice? Makes sense, given the title, and look, you’ve only have to scroll through a few paragraphs to get there. Can I share something that I’ve learned over the weekend? There’s nothing quite as stressful as trying to give a cat medicine that he doesn’t want to take. I’d sooner run into a burning building and have a boxing match with a drunk Hartlepudlian woman than go through this again. He needs to take it because he’s had an allergic reaction to something and is pulling out his fur, the poor bugger. Naturally, because we’re caring sorts, we rushed him to the vets, handed over a billion pounds to the absolutely dishy trainee vet behind the counter (oh! to be a cow in difficult labour!) and were given a course of tiny pills to give to the cat, who would ‘eat them with no fuss, all cats do’.

Like hell they do. I’d have more luck getting Bowser to learn to tap-dance. This is a cat who shat in his own cat-box to stop us taking him to the vets to stop his own sickness. He was foolish, we just bundled him in with his sister and they spent twenty minutes tumbling around in the back of the Smart car until we arrived at the vets and had to pull them apart like old Velcro. Sola is fine, she just spends her day showing off her fanny in the window or sleeping anywhere where we’ve put down clean clothes. I don’t know what it is to own a shirt that doesn’t look 80% mohair.

First we tried the obvious route – slid out a packet of finest Whiskas Bumholes-‘n’Ash and hid the tiny pill inside. He ate every last bit, bar the atom-sized piece of cat-food with this pill on it. There was a haughty arrogance to his walk as he strutted off, dropping hair everywhere he went. Next we tried luring him in with good ham – Sainsbury’s Extra Special Ham, no less – and despite him usually wolfing this down so fast he manages to take your fingernails with him at the same time, he completely ignored it. I gave it to Paul instead, telling him to man-up and spit out the cat-hair afterwards.

Next came the nuclear option – Dreamies. Have you ever seen a cat around Dreamies? I can only assume they contain whatever the cat equivalent is of crack-cocaine because I swear, my cats would be out turning tricks in the street if they knew there was a packet of Dreamies to be had. They’ve been known to get inside our kitchen cupboards just to push the little pot onto the floor before. This time we used our brains, secured the tablet to a Dreamie with a bit of spit, and hid it in amongst a pile of other Dreamies.

Yep, he ate all but one, then went back to furiously licking his willy. He did the same with tuna fish, he did the same with cream and he’ll do the same with whatever suggestion you lot have for me. In the end we had to find a video on Youtube on how to pill your cat and I swear, our relationship will never be the same. He looks absolutely fucking furious – and this is what he usually looks like:

Paul had to hold him and I had the unfortunate job of prising his mouth open to drop the pill in – then he spat it out – so rinse and repeat. Ah well. Only thirteen more to go. I would have genuinely preferred the vet had given us suppositories at this point.

So, aside from pushing pills on the cat all weekend, what else have we done? Finally organised our bloody spice cupboard, that’s what! Anyone else on Slimming World knows the pain of their spice cupboard – a mysterious Null full of eight jars of ground ginger and dried sage that was last wheeled out for the ‘GOODBYE DIANA 4EVA IN OUR HARTS’ vol-au-vents. The amount of times we’ve bought stuff in Tesco only to find we actually had several bottles of it already cluttering up our kitchen, man, it beggars belief. So we emptied it out, like so:

Then, with a quick trip to IKEA and the purchase of all these pretty magnetic jars for the side of the fridge, we now have this:

Pretty right? They’re nice and sturdy so they’ll stay on there until the cleaner knocks the turmeric to the floor with her Henry Hoover and ruins our carpet. But that’s OK, we’ll cross that P45 when we get to it. I posted this online last night and people went wet with delight, which I wasn’t expecting given it’s just jars, but if you’re wondering:

You have no idea how long it takes to scrutinise our highly-reflective gloss surfaces for stray knob-shots, you know. Let’s get to the food, eh?

caramelised Vietnamese pork and rice

caramelised Vietnamese pork and rice

to make caramelised Vietnamese pork and rice you will need:

  • 500g minced pork
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tsp grated ginger (save your fingers and invest in one of these – great for garlic too!)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bird eye chili, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup (4 syns)
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • rice or noodles (whichever you prefer)

to make caramelised Vietnamese pork and rice you should:

  • cook the rice or noodles to however you like it – the main bit doesn’t take long so you can probably cook both at the same time
  • meanwhile, heat a little oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat
  • add the onion, garlic, ginger and chili to the pan and cook for 2 minutes
  • add the mince and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until it’s cooked through
  • add the maple syrup and the fish sauce and stir it in only once
  • leave it to cook, untouched, for about 2 minutes – this helps it to caramelise
  • stir, then cook again for another thirty seconds – and then do two more times
  • remove form the pan and serve over the rice or noodles
  • sprinkle over the spring onions and eat

Want some more ideas? Just click one of the buttons below!

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J

chicken cordon bleu burgers

Here for the chicken cordon bleu burgers, which are so-called because god-knows-why? I understand. Far too many Slimming World burger recipes out there that have all the texture of an old gym mat. This, however, does not, and you know why?  We use chicken breast minced up ourselves rather than that watery muck you get in the supermarket that they cheekily call turkey mince. But first, speaking of mincers, it’s part three of our trip around Newcastle. Don’t want to read it? Scroll down to the food pictures…

click here for part one | click here for part two

When Paul first invited me to explore a foisty, smelly, starved-of-oxygen tunnel that has welcomed thousands of men from the 1930s onwards and now exists cobwebbed, abandoned and occasionally leaking, my first thought was that he could have warned me his mother was visiting and the second was ‘Classic Peterborough’. However, once I’d finished dry-heaving into my eggs benedict and Paul had reassured me that we weren’t about to be visited by his Mother Inferior, I realised he meant the Victoria Tunnel. Thank the Lord. We dressed in suitable tunnel-exploring attire (i.e. my work shoes and a thin coat – we’re Geordies remember, we won’t put on a second layer until at least two layers of skin have died in the cold) and we were on our way – by happy coincidence the tour started a mere five minutes away from our hotel. Naturally, we were five minutes late.

What is the Victoria Tunnel then? It’ll cause no gasps at all if I tell you it’s a tunnel, because, well, it is – but it has an interesting history. It was originally built in the 19th century to transport coal from a coal mine at one end of Newcastle (Spital Tongues, which I’ve always thought was a glorious name because it sounds like one of the made-up diseases you’d get in Theme Hospital) (which was a far better game than Theme Park and I’ll kick the tits off anyone who disagrees) down to the Tyne, where waiting boats would take it away. I had desperately hoped that the tunnel was used to get rid of the after-effects of burning coal in a boiler because then I could have used the killer line ‘…not the first time filthy slag has been deposited on Newcastle’s Quayside’ but it wasn’t to be. When Hitler started getting a bit rumbustious in 1939 the tunnel was hastily converted into an air-raid shelter, capable of taking thousands of men at once at the drop of a hat. But aren’t we all?

After the war finished and victory was declared the tunnel was closed until 2008 when a load of lovely folks – most if not all in some form of knitwear, I imagine – applied for a grant from the lottery, carefully repaired the tunnel and opened it up to guided tours. It’s listed as the number one attraction for Newcastle on Tripadvisor and I find that absolutely charming: I think of the money that gets spent on massive multiplex cinemas or exciting galleries and then look at this wee little tunnel full of absolutely nothing and it seems to captivate everyone who enters. I reckon that’s down to the volunteers who run it, and so, I’ll pick up my story back at the beginning of the tour.

We were warmly welcomed by a chap whose name I’ve already forgotten (purely because these days it’s all I can do to remember to blink) who sat us down in the waiting area around a table seemingly filled with furious looking people. Admittedly we were late by a moment or two (we’d made up some time power-mincing down the bank) but each pair of eyes conveyed the strong message that if either of us collapsed with heart difficulties down in the tunnel, not a single soul would attempt resuscitation. A couple of the kids looked like those awful children who speak in elongated vowels and whose triple-barrelled surname would wreck every form they ever completed. With my beard smouldering from the sheer force of ill-will we were experiencing, we turned our attention to our tour guides who were explaining the health and safety rules – no smoking (sensible), no going off on your own (correct), no entombing folks you don’t like down there forever (Fenneeeeeer!) and no eating. Paul looked stricken – he had a packet of Polo Mints burning a hole in his pocket. I told him to keep schtum. The reason there’s no rats or spiders down in the tunnel is because there’s no food for them to feast on, something which caught me by surprise as I’ve never seen someone from Newcastle walk more than 300m without dropping Greggs crumbs around them like greasy dandruff. We set off.

The tour begins at their visitor centre out on Lime Street and involves a short walk around the Ouseburn Valley, taking in sights such as Seven Stories and the chimneys. I used to live down on Newcastle’s Quayside a decade ago and the gentrification of the Ouseburn Valley was in full swing – I like to think that the ruffians were so taken by my fetching Florence and Fred shirts and effortless style that they thought ‘we could do that’. The river Ouseburn runs down through the burn and trickles out into the Tyne. Way back when, the riparian businesses (long since gone) dotted around used to tip all manner of chemicals and literal shite into the river, where it would eventually flow out to sea to bother some far-off Scandinavian country. The glitz! It had previously been a pretty overgrown burn under the bridges with a couple of decent pubs about and any manner of drugs available. I’m told. Now it’s still a bit ramshackle, possibly by virtue of being in close proximity to the rougher parts of Byker (if Newcastle was a slender runner’s leg, Byker is its gravel-filled knee), but full of galleries and pubs and quirky (for quirky, read ‘mildly hipsterish’) places to eat.

That’s not me jogging, in case you’re wondering.

We don’t just have fancy bridges in Newcastle, y’knaa.

Your Majesty.

Newcastle Council spent £4.7m to install a set of gates at the end of the stream to, amongst other reasons, keep the water level high to make the place look more attractive. Naturally, this barrier worked for a few months, and then…didn’t. It remains permanently open now, allowing the water in the stream to disappear into the Tyne twice a day, which in turn leads to the attractive sight of a smelly, almost drained river-bed to enjoy as you walk to the entrance of the tunnel. I’ve done a bit of research into the barrage to see why it hasn’t been fixed and it turns out that it does still work, but they just keep it open otherwise silt builds up behind it and stinks the place out. Dammed if you do, dammed if you divvint.

I’m digressing again. Our companionable host talked us through an excellent potted history of the area and led us up to the entrance of the tunnel on Ouse Street. We were given a hard-hat and a torch and you need to believe me that I’ve never felt so butch. I was a hi-vis jacket away from drinking too much and striking the children. We both struggled with getting the hat on – Paul because he has silly sausage fingers and couldn’t get the strap to loosen and me because I have a colossal, elephantine head. You know that thing David Cameron has where his face looks as though he fell onto a high-pressure tyre-inflator? I have that, and subsequently every hat causes me difficulty. I finally managed to extend the strap far enough to balance the hat on my head (just) and into the tunnel we went.

The turtle couldn’t help us.

You’ll float too.

Can I just stress how unflattering the light is? Paul doesn’t normally look like he’s fashioned from Trex. I like the angry eyebrows my glasses shadow has given me though. Please send us a stamped addressed envelope if you want an A2 laminated version to practice your snail-trails on.

Now, I’ll say this. It’s very hard to make a tour of a tunnel interesting via the medium of text – we walked for about 90 minutes, stopping and starting to hear stories from our two tour guides. Historical tours have a tendency to be dry, I find, with too much focus on the ‘facts’ of the matter, but this one was smashing because it told you of the people involved and their stories. It makes all the difference. What paints the better picture: someone droning on about brick density or someone telling you how, when everyone was sheltered in the tunnel, an incendiary bomb hit one of the sugar tanks in a nearby factory and the resulting fire resulted in a load of caramel being made? Which was great for the rationed, starving kids – at least until the diseased rats started chewing on it. There was an especially ghoulish part towards the end where they told the tale of three chaps who were caught at one end of the tunnel whilst an out-of-control coal-wagon (itself almost the exact size of the tunnel) hurtled towards them from the other end. Our guides turned off the lights for thirty seconds so you were stood in absolute blackness contemplating how it would feel to hear the rumble of your own approaching, almost-guaranteed death.

I have to confess the dramatic moment was somewhat ruined for me by the sound of Paul crunching a Polo approximately 8mm from my ear. In the dark it sounded like a horse snacking on gravel and even though I couldn’t see them, the heat registering on my face told me we were the focal point of the group’s angry stares once more. Meh.

We walked up a steep slope (fear not, fellow fatties: the slope, though steep, is short and we managed it with hardly a problem, though the guy in front did have to put up with me shallow-breathing in his ear for the next ten minutes) to be told about further tunnels that lay ahead, sadly out-of-bounds, and how the toilets worked and illness spread. It was fantastic. We made to walk back out of the tunnel with Paul and I, usually the cow’s tail (always at the back), leading the way. Naturally, I banged my head on a particularly low part of the tunnel at the top of the slope, leading to the sight of my hard-hat bouncing merrily away into the darkness. It made such a cacophony of bangs and crashes that, for the third time that morning, the skin on my neck started crinkling from the ire of the crowd behind. It didn’t help that each ‘for goodness sake’ tut from behind sounded like someone firing a musket.

Thoroughly chagrined but pleasantly informed, we all made our way to the exit where, after tipping the guides and assuring everyone in the group that we’d never meet again, we all dispersed. I did plan on writing up the full day but, having spent 1700 words telling you how we went into a tunnel and back out again, I’ll not bore you further.

The Victoria Tunnel is open for guided tours only and tickets must be booked in advance. We took the two hour tour and the time flew by – the volunteers are incredibly knowledgeable and made the whole thing very interesting indeed. You can find more information by clicking here and I strongly encourage you to do so. Don’t be put off by the idea of a long walk, it’s not bad at all, though you may struggle if you’re claustrophobic, although one of the guides will whisk you straight back to the entrance if you start getting the heebie-jeebies. It thoroughly deserves its number one spot on Tripadvisor!

OK I know, gush much.


Let’s get straight to the food. This makes enough for four burgers, see.

Got a bit of a wide-on for our chips? Of course you have. They’re Actifry chips. Not Actifaux from Aldi, not the Airtower or the Hairdryer or whatever you’ve managed to hide in the pram dashing out of Wilkinsons, but a good old fashioned Actifry. Get decent potatoes, use a teaspoon of oil and a teaspoon of worcestershire sauce, and you’re sorted. Life’s too short for shit chips man, buy an Actifry whilst they’re cheap.

to make chicken cordon bleu burgers you will need:

  • 4 wholemeal buns (HeB), sliced (yes, we’ve used a brioche bun for the photo because, well let’s face it – they taste nicer. If you do the same, remember to syn it!)
  • 400g chicken breast (you can use chicken mince if you want, but chicken breast is better – the ones in our Musclefood deal are excellent!)
  • 12g panko (2 syns) (normal breadcrumbs will do)
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • good grind of salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp seasoning of your choice (we used a steak seasoning mix, but use whatever you like – cajun, fajita, garlic – whatever you want!)
  • 4 slices of ham
  • 4 slices leerdammer light cheese (2x HeA, so half a HeA each)
  • 2 little gem lettuce

Oh god I can hear it now. I can. WHASS PANKO PLZ HUN. I beg of you, if you have that question, click this mysterious link… Panko is not this:

to make chicken cordon bleu burgers you should:

  • if you’re using chicken breast (which you should, because it tastes better!) chuck it into a food processor and pulse until it has a mince-ish consistency. This won’t take much doing – be careful not to over do it
  • mix together the chicken, panko, paprika, salt, pepper and seasoning into a bowl and mix well
  • divide the mixture into four and squash into burger shapes
  • next – cook the burgers. we used our Tefal Optigrill for this and it worked a treat but you can do them under the grill too
    • for the Optigrill, press the ‘Burger’ button, wait for it to heat up and cook until the light is Red
    • otherwise, preheat the grill to medium-high and cook the burgers until they’re done, turning halfway through
  • add the lettuce to the bun, and top with the burger, then the cheese and then the ham

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J