ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!
ʼʼ

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Souper New Year

I'm sure it's been woefully remiss of me not to have wished everybody a Merry Christmas or indeed a Happy New Year, but here we are already in 2013, and to be honest, this year I'm just glad to have got through it.

It was never going to be a hugely enjoyable Christmas, and being somewhat chronophobic I've never much cared for all this 'New Year' nonsense (although these days it has an altogether different celebratory tone, what with New Years Day being Mrs B-V's birthday).

On the food side, the cheese, rare breed ham and game pie from Borough Market was, as expected, totally fucking awesome, and the excellent Glenmorangie Sauternes cask a very pleasant discovery.
 
But it was a challenge was sticking to the 5:2 diet throughout the festive season, but we managed to average two fasting days each week by making the pattern just slightly less regular than the usual 'every Monday and Thursday'. We've avoided having to do consecutive days too, though there have been a few 'one-gaps' to counterbalance the 'five-gaps' - we're fasting today (Wednesday) and there's another one coming up on Friday.

If anybody has been wondering what we've been eating on the days when we've been restricted to just 600 calories (500 for Mrs B-V) the answer is... mostly soup.

Liquid lunches


Now, I've not traditionally been an enthusiastic ambassador for soup. When choosing a starter from a restaurant menu I'll almost always dismiss the idea with nary a second thought. (The only less appealing first course was the 'glass of fresh orange juice', which mercifully disappeared from menus around the same time as my childhood).

The old Warhol Horses of the Soup world
But, calorifically, soup is quite efficiently satisfying. And indeed satisfyingly efficient. It scores highly on my satiety index, and that's exactly what you need when trying to get through a day with just a few calories to keep you going. Decent nutrition, fairly filling, and it's not always obvious that it's mostly water. Great stuff.

Old-fashioned long-life tinned soups like the Warholian Campbell's 'Cream of Tomato' might not have a lot going for them (and I tend to avoid such canned foodstuffs anyway out of personal prejudice and fear) but nowadays these can be safely left for consumption in soup-kitchens, as a huge variety of pretty decent fresh soups are available.

So, we generally have at least a couple of soups on fast days (half a pot/carton is usually well under 200 calories and sometimes even under 100).

We must have tried 20 or 30 different soups now - some of them bland and watery admittedly, but some of them not at all bad. Here's a few of my favourites for anybody resolved to try the 5:2 diet in 2013 - or who just fancy a drop of soup to celebrate the New Solstice, or whatever the fuck it is you're doing.

My top five soups of late-2012

New Covent Garden Soup Co. 'Wild Mushroom' (111 kcal per serving) - rich mushroomy flavour with a decent shot of garlic. Surprisingly creamy for something so un-calorific.

The soup of Christmas present
New Covent Garden Soup Co. 'Tomato & Sweet Basil' (138 kcal per serving) - a very herby tomato soup, rather like a pasta sauce. Would probably make a great base for a bolognese actually...

Sainsbury's 'Carrot & Coriander' (89 kcal per serving) - unbelievably low in calories and fairly thick and satisfying though it needs a bit of black pepper added (which is more or less calorie-free)

Sainsbury's 'Leek & Potato' (105 kcal per serving) - thick and tasty; probably the most filling soup, though you might want to add some garlic salt before eating.

New York Soup Co. 'Pulled Pork & Bean' (165 kcal per serving) - properly meaty and spicy, very 'big' for a mere soup and challenges some of my perceptions about the medium of soup... generally the New York Soups are all pretty good in fact and I'll be trying more of the range this year.



And a couple that aren't quite so impressive:


New Covent Garden Soup Co. 'Souper Greens' (90 kcal per serving) - low-cal, but very thin and constantly reminded me of the 'cabbage water' consumed by Charlie's family before he went to the Chocolate Factory...

Tesco's Finest 'Roasted Red Pepper' (145 kcal per serving) - sounded great but failed to deliver the goods and Tesco soups generally have more calories than other brands for some reason.

I'm sure there are other ways of getting through fast days on the 5:2 diet, but soups like these have made it a hell of a lot easier for us.

All of these are easily available in major s(o)upermarkets, and most of them seem to be a certified 'one of your five a day' which is a nice bonus.

Yes, it's hard not being able to have a big fuck-off hunk of freshly-buttered bread with these soups, but dieters can't be choosers, and there's enough variety in the soup world these days that it hasn't become boring yet.

I've been doing the 5:2 diet for nearly four months now, and while I can't exactly claim to have shed hundreds of pounds, it seems to be controlling my diabetes fairly effectively and I might have lost a little weight as my trousers occasionally fall down.

And, on that note, I belatedly wish you a happy, prosperous and peaceful St Swithun's day!

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