The Fast Diet – Intermittent Fasting to Lose Weight

As any followers will know food for The Cooktwit is a way of life. Depending on which paper you read or which government you listen to there is always news of a new find in the food world that helps or hinders the standard human to achieve weight equilibrium.
After years of combining the balanced diet with some fairly hefty exercise, a sedentary workload has left the Cooktwit drifting upwards in the poundage stakes. After months of steady drift steps were taken.

Anecdotes from close family and friends were spouting the virtues of the fast diet or 5:2 diet. In conjunction with the TV teachings of Dr Michael Mosely the evidence was compelling enough for the Cooktwit to give this scheme a crack. I armed myself with the books ‘Fast Diet’ and ‘Fast Cook’, (a modest £13 for the pair). Doc Mosely heads up the male half of the story whilst Mimi Spencer, a journalist, provides the feline take. Mimi seems to be the one who conjures up some of the recipe ideas, whilst the Doc clips in with the technical bits. The books are a good in investment and set the scene well.

The fast cook book and the Fast Diet book
The fast cook book and the Fast Diet book

The premise of this diet is that you fast for two days a week (or more accurately consume a max of 600 cals), eating normally for the remaining five days. A more accurate tag is ‘intermittent fasting’. Losing a modest one pound a week in weight is predicted using this practice.
Whilst at first you first may think that it is a obvious you would lose weight if you simply starve yourself for two days a week, the added bonus quoted, is that this idea of fasting provides a health benefit. The benefit latches on to the adage that as former cavemen we are not built to eat as regularly and as substantially as we do and that by fasting we give our system and in particular the pancreas a much needed rest.

Whilst by no means ‘morbidly obese’, the Cooktwit nonetheless started this binge with a bmi of 27.2 which is in the ‘overweight’ section of the dreaded chart. Another pointer often quoted by the weight Gestapo is that the male species should start to look over their shoulder at the grim reaper if the waist girth creeps north of 38″. The cook twits’ was gingerly noted at 41″. The fast diet seemed like a scheme worth considering. Whilst starving was not something I would naturally embrace I was intrigued to see if the associated ‘health benefits’ would manifest themselves. I’ve always fancied a healthy pancreas!

The BMI chart
The BMI chart

I have started this system choosing two work days as the dreaded fasting days. Monday and Wednesday seemed to be the days most favoured for the torture. For the first fasting day rather than my usual cereal with semi skimmed milk, I took a small sachet of ‘oats so simple’ porridge and a pear. Working in an office we have a small kitchenette equipped with all the mod cons associated with warming up some porridge and cutting a pear up! I ate that at 8.30am and from then on I was on my own. Water, black coffee, fruit tea was then consumed at regular intervals to stave off the hunger pains when they came. To be fair the ‘hunger pains’ are not that bad. The discomfort seems to heighten to a certain point but then stops. The most displeasure I felt was the lack of taste in the mouth and an above average thirst, but nothing that a hardy will can’t overcome.

Salad & sardines 220 cals,  Asparagus, haddock & egg,  Chilli on cauliflower. Rice, Veggie stew with cod
Salad & sardines 220 cals, Asparagus, haddock & egg, Chilli on cauliflower. Rice, Veggie stew with cod

As the weeks moved on the desire and ease at which the fast day approaches comes as quite a surprise. Whilst I can’t honestly say I look forward to a fast day, it does nonetheless come around with less dread. As a passionate amateur cook I have found the hunt for tasty, low calorie meals a source of interest and have managed in the first few weeks to create some fairly decent meals. The trick really is to use plenty of herbs and spices to give meals a kick. Dressings and chilli based flavourings being a fast dieters friend.
Ive created a few dishes over the weeks. Cauliflower Rice has been a staple carb replacer (see link). I’ve used it as an accompaniment with a light chilli and various veggie stews. Another good option is smoked haddock. Low calories, but high on flavour. Eggs score well, they’re packed with protein, low calorie and filling.

As I write I’m six weeks in and indeed it does appear to do what it says on the tin. Six weeks equals a weight loss of six pounds. I’m happy with that! Reading the book there are anecdotes suggesting that the fast day is something you start to look forward to. I can’t say I’ve got to that yet! I will admit to some mild euphoria at the end of the second day, when you realise you can crack on and eat what you want into the weekend though!

I think part of the reason it works is that you don’t actually eat what you want when you get the chance. I think moderation still plays its part as you don’t want to ruin the sacrifice you have made. Nonetheless it does the job. I’m off on holiday next week. I’m undecided what I will do, will I keep it going while I’m away? I’ll let you know in a few weeks. But in the meantime if anyone out there needs to shed a few pounds or indeed a few stones I would recommend this method. I will reblog in a few more weeks to see if I can validate the health benefits. So far so good.

Gorilla – Manchester

Always had a soft spot for Gorilla in Manchester. Set across from former ‘grab a granny haunt’ The Ritz, it is the natural port of call when The Cooktwit indulges in one of his other passions – rock music. Having been a nightclub, The Ritz has now morphed into a fully fledged, live rock venue. If a former rock titan has seen fit to grace The Ritz on their way down from the lofty heights of success, The Cooktwit and his chums have been there ready and waiting, air guitar in hand.


Trendy, The Ritz, trendy roof and upstairs diner,
Trendy, The Ritz, trendy roof and upstairs diner,


Gorilla is also a hop, skip and a jump from Oxford Road rail station, meaning our merry throng can be on the train home with ‘The Final Countdown’ encore still ringing in our ears.
However, a little ritual has developed, the Gorilla bar provides a thirsty rock troupe with good beer and has even given way to provide a pre gig snack in the shape of a trusty burger, shaped and seasoned by the fair hand of Chorlton butchering legend WH Frost. I have ventured these delights on to the palate of a good few of the ‘hoi poloi’ and have all agreed these are the work of an angel. They are juicy, pink and sized correctly for a fine feed.

The cocktail bar
The cocktail bar

In the guise of ‘Billy no mates’ I have on several occasions ventured alone into Gorilla. I’ve always found it to be a friendly and welcoming den. The bar tenders, encapsulated behind their three sided counter, often festooned in either facial hair, tats or piercings, or all three, are never anything other than friendly, efficient, jolly and professional. Indeed it’s quite a treat to watch them conjuring up their extensive cocktails.
But it was a different occasion this time. This time I trooped in with The Flame. We had just been up the road to The Opera House to watch an afternoon performance of ‘Rock Of Ages’. It was basically a spectacular romp through all the 80’s hair metal tunes you can think of, coupled to a series of jokes and raunchy dance routines. Indeed being a gentleman of a certain age and feeling somewhat hot under the collar, it was critical to reach Gorilla (the nearest bar) to cool the shock of seeing over a dozen power ballads and a veritable phalanx of near naked ladies clasped to the gills in suspenders belts! We arrived just after five and bagged a table right by the window facing out to the infamous Ritz. An American ‘Red Hook’ Pale ale was quickly acquired to apply the ‘cooling’!

The menu
The menu

The Gorilla decor ticks all the trendy bar boxes. In fairness to Gorilla I reckon they wrote the trendy bar book. Unmatched, up cycled furniture, craft beer, industrial lighting, exposed ceilings, retro branding, food served on wooden planks, plenty of organic, veggie, lentily stuff on the menu. The menu itself, along with a vintage drink booklet, is thoughtfully printed on lined paper with an old ‘typewriter’ font. So the trendy bar boxes all ticked, it’s all here and I think its great, and thankfully so did The Flame.
As great as the burgers are I decided to have a change this time. I went for a simple chargrilled half a chicken (£12). It had been marinated in thyme, garlic and lemon and I have to say without any doubt this was the finest piece of chicken I have had in years, if not ever. To say it was succulent, moist and tasty is not really doing it justice but it’s all I can think of. It came with a handful of watercress, on a plank, with two wonderful dips. A garlic mayo one and a chimmichurri (herby, olive oily) one, both very nice. I had some fries on the side (£3).

The chargrilled chicken, dips, chamoula kebab, the lot
The chargrilled chicken, dips, chamoula kebab, the lot

The Flame had a Chermoula Chicken Kebab (£10) which was toasted in an African spice rub, it came with a puy lentil, tomato, cucumber, and green herb salad, harissa yoghurt and a grilled flat bread. She had a roasted squash side to keep it company. Though I say so myself it looked the business and was absolutely bang on to how The Flame likes her food. She was well chuffed. We swapped a little bit. To be fair even she admitted my chicken was best, but I had half a wrap with all the trimmings and it was heavenly. All in all two great mains.
As is the norm I was forced to have a desert for research purposes, so I had the pecan pie and whipped cream (£4.50) while the flame had a standard black coffee in a mug. The pie was ‘delish’ although the base was a little tough and needed a good hacking with a fork. The bill came to £44.60 for the two of us with the drinks.

Pecan pie and beer
Pecan pie and beer

I think we all know Manchester has plenty of gourmet burger outfits who all do a grand job, but spare a thought for Gorilla. As I mentioned I’ve had quite a few here and they have been consistently superb. Judging by the number of them being carried aloft from the kitchen they are still hitting the spot. So there you have it, another recommendation, Gorilla it is!

54-56 Whitworth Street
M1 5WW
0161 407 0301

Grilled Marinated Hanger Steak

I am fortunate to live within a short stroll away from a superb local butcher. The thought of buying meat that has come from animals born and bred in my home town adds a proper meaning to the term ‘shop local’.

It was during one of my regular jaunts that I noticed a long streak of muscle nestling in a tray on the top shelf of The Red Bank Farm shop display. A short enquiry with the host revealed that this luvicious, pink lump to be what’s known as a ‘hanger’ steak. I was intrigued and so it was the work of a moment to thrash out the deal and bag me a pound of prime.

The raw hanger steak
The raw hanger steak

There is only one hanger steak per animal. As the name suggests it ‘hangs’ from the diaphragm and is attached to the spine and the last rib (sounds like you know what you’re on about! – Ed). It normally weighs between a pound and a pound and a half (450 to 675g). It’s reckoned it is the tenderest cut on an animal and is best marinated and cooked quickly over high heat and served rare or medium rare, to avoid toughness.

The recipe I have cadged here is by Anne Burrell who seemingly pops up on a show called ‘Secrets of a Restaurant Chef’. It’s quite simple really, the keys seems to be to marinate the meat overnight. The ingredients below are for 2 steaks which I reckon would feed 4. I actually cooked one for me and The Flame.

Marinating ingredients and then smeared in readiness
Marinating ingredients and then smeared in readiness

4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
Pinch crushed pepper
2 sprigs rosemary, picked and finely chopped
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 (1 1/2-pound each) hanger steaks, trimmed, membrane removed and cut in half lengthwise
Rapeseed oil

In a small bowl, combine the Dijon, garlic, rosemary, lemon juice and zest, and crushed pepper. Smear the steaks with this deliciousness and let them hang out in the fridge overnight or up to 2 hours in the fridge.

You could grill the steaks on a barbecue or indoor grill. I did mine on the hob in my trusty grill pan. I seasoned the steaks with salt before setting on the hot, lightly oiled grill pan. I seared each side for about three minutes each and then rested for 5 – 10 minutes in a warm oven. You could cover with foil I reckon.

Grilling and resting
Grilling and resting

Alternatively using Anne’s recipe she does it on a flame grill. When the grill is hot, brush and oil the grill. When the flames have dissipated place the steaks on a hot spot on the grill. Brush with the excess marinade and move the steaks out of the flame if there is a flare up. Grill the steak for 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium rare. Remove the steaks from the grill and let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

One rested I sliced mine and served immediately with chips and salad. I have to say it was pretty good. The marinade really comes through and gives the meat plenty of flavour. I’d definitely do it again. And after all it is a fairly cheap cut.

The final result, sliced served with chips, sausage and salad
The final result, sliced served with chips, sausage and salad

I got the hanger steak from
Red Bank Farm Shop, Winwick Road,
Newton Le Willows, Warrington, WA12 8DU
Tel: 07824 369174

War Of The Roses – Lancashire v Yorkshire :-)

It’s just a jape, don’t worry, nothing too serious. Let me explain.

Last year The Flame and I beckoned friends across the border from Yorkshire to enjoy some Lancastrian hospitality. Yours truly tasked with organising the binge played his ace. He tripped the team into the beautiful Trough of Bowland and set up a Sunday afternoon sesh in The Parkers Arms. Full details of the sumptuous scran are already available elsewhere on the blog. It was a triumphant scheme, Charlie The Greek and his lovely wife Julie were bowled over and considered it the best meal they had in years.
Last week a return leg was organised. The Yorkshire troop were convinced that a repeat performance could be arranged. The Cooktwit decided to run a friendly competition, could Yorkshire overcome the lofty bar that had been set by Lancashire’s Bowland crew?

Parkers Arms, The Cross Keys
Parkers Arms, The Cross Keys

The planned set up was to quaff and stuff on Saturday night at The Cross Keys in Leeds and then round off with a Sunday lunch at The Roebuck in Otley. First off it was into the up and coming trendy enclave of the Leeds granary wharf basin. Saturday night at The Cross Keys was Yorkshires first effort to lever the crown. Set in a run of terracing it has been spruced from the front with the obligatory tin of Farrow and Ball. And rather pleasant it looks too. It didn’t disappoint inside either. Trad gastro pub fittings downstairs with a swirling, rickety staircase up to the dining room above. A pint of Kirkstall ‘North Prototype’, a light, golden ale soon had The Cook Twit settled and raring for his Yorkshire feed.

Crab parfait, cheese soufflé - Parkers, Squid, hens egg and asparagus - Cross Keys
Crab parfait, cheese soufflé – Parkers, Squid, hens egg and asparagus – Cross Keys

I opened at The Keys with pan fried squid, black pudding, beef dripping croutons with a lemon emulsion! Whilst the flame chipped in with a glorious deep fried hens egg on fresh asparagus. I wasn’t sure about the croutons as they had a strong taste of the oil. The hens egg worked well, it spurned its yolk over the greens right on cue.

In comparison at The Parkers we recalled a sublime crab parfait and a three cheese soufflé, both crafted and presented with aplomb.

Starters : Lancashire 8/10 Yorkshire 7/10

Pheasant, venison pasty - Parkers, Hanger Steak, Mutton pie - Cross Keys, Roebuck
Pheasant, venison pasty – Parkers, Hanger Steak, Mutton pie – Cross Keys, Roebuck

For the main event I’ve had to bring a selection of the best from Yorkshire to compete with Lancashire. According to our Canadian waitress Jen, The Crosskeys menu changes almost daily depending on what has been acquired from the area. A laudable aim I’m sure you’ll agree. However, out of eight dishes, three were pig based, two were veggie, which left us a little short on variety.
I had the hanger steak on Saturday night, a cut I’ve only read about before. It came rare and covered with two bone marrow butter discs. The butter was used in small doses to add further flavour and moisture to what was a decent steak. For Sunday lunch The Roebuck pub in Otley served up a minted, mutton pie which I’d have to say was pushing hard against the Great Northern Pie Co efforts that I occasionally imbibe as a treat. It came with a lovely gravy to set it off. Given the rabbit pie that I originally ordered had run out it was a cracking back up. The waitress pointed out that they had the rabbits but had not turned them into pies yet!
Sadly for Yorkshire all this had to stack up against Stosie’s boned pheasant done two ways, the leg in a pasty the breast rolled in a ballotine. A good effort from Yorkshire but….

Mains : Lancashire 10/10 Yorkshire 8/10

Plum sponge, Wet Nellie - Parkers, Coffee treat, sticky berry fool - Roebuck, Cross Keys
Plum sponge, Wet Nellie – Parkers, Coffee treat, sticky berry fool – Roebuck, Cross Keys

Despite being absolutely rammed The Cook Twit (purely for research purposes) stepped up to the plate and devoured a desert on Saturday night and Sunday lunch. The Cross Keys put up a strange but nonetheless tasty offering of sticky toffee berry fool. Essentially a glass bowl of sticky toffee pudding swimming in a berry compote with berries on top. It was too much really. Could have been a smaller portion with some ice cream. The Roebuck presented some real quality. Labelled as ‘coffee sweet treats’ it turned out to be a coffee with a selection of four of the deserts. An Eton mess, sliver of lemon tart, chocolate Ganesh and a sensational local banana ice cream. I managed to take down the lemon and the ice cream but got stawed with the rest.
The Parkers tipped up with a Victorian plum sponge, and it’s famous wet Nellie. Two stonking deserts. It’s a close call but I think Lancashire seals it again. The Roebucks offer nearly taking it.

Sweets : Lancashire 8/10. Yorkshire 7/10

Hen Harrier, Northern Prototype, Saltaire
Hen Harrier, Northern Prototype, Saltaire

Service and surroundings both hit the rustic mark. Open fires at The Parkers, whilst tudor beams support The Cross Keys. All three pubs offered quality real ale. As you would expect The Parkers Arms opened its account with a Bowland effort called Hen Harrier. A lovely golden ale, but I’d have to say the Yorkshire twins offered the Kirkstall brew and then one called ‘Saltaire’. Both were absolutely superb, light session ales that I could have quaffed all day. Yorkshire steals the ale comp.

Beer : Lancashire 7/10 Yorkshire 9/10

So there you have it Lancsahire 33/40, Yorkshire 31/40 a splendid effort. A word to The Cross Keys and The Roebuck it’s no disgrace finishing behind The Parkers Arms. There’s an experienced team there serving amazing food.
We had a great time in Leeds and we certainly ate and drank well. We would definately go back to both places. They are both on our radar. I notice today there is chicken on the menu at The Cross Keys. The Flame would have been a little happier.

Parkers Arms
Nr Clitheroe
01200 446236

The Cross Keys
107 Water Lane, leeds LS11 5WD
Tel: 0113 243 3711

The Roebuck Pub
Roebuck Terrace
West Yorkshire
LS21 2EY
Telephone: 01943 463063