Brussel and Bacon Risotto (or, not at all self-care)

The last time I wrote about risotto on this blog, I wrote about self-care. In retrospect, I think it might’ve been bollocks. 

Recently, I got a copy of Self-Care Bear by Lottie Pencheon. It’s this really great comic about a woman who has had a rough day at work, and self-care bear pops round and joins her in a series of lovely activities – lighting scented candles, having a nice bath, drinking hot chocolate – but caught up in the loveliness she doesn’t do the work she’s supposed to because it’s tough and so not self-care – there are consequences, but the bear still has tricks up his sleeve to delay reality a little more. I’ve maybe not described it well, but it’s this really sweet, sharp critique of the way we’ve started to talk about self-care and how it might impact us – and I was being a bit of a self-care bear when I was talking about how risotto is all lovely and calming and blah. 

Self-care is supposed to be about using certain techniques to manage, maintain or improve your mental health*. There are things I do in life which I think do fall into this: showering regularly, getting enough sleep, occasionally going outdoors and always making a shopping list before I go to Sainsburys so I don’t get overwhelmed, have a panic attack and then only buy smoothies. 

But risotto isn’t one of these tactics and I think in calling it so I was contributing to a wider sense that self-care is becoming synonymous with luxury. That last recipe (still a tasty thing to make) contained white wine, goat’s cheese and kale – it was a shopping list of middle class ingredients that I was confusing with some sort of method of looking after myself. Honestly, if you are dealing with mental illness and I come along and say ‘making risotto will make you feel better!’, then I’m being a condescending prick. While I personally find cooking soothing, I don’t want to be part of a trend that takes a term that is meant to cover things that might help those recovering from or dealing with mental illness and turns it into an advert for buying more nice things and so makes out that self-care is only for people with disposable income. I don’t want to make out like self-care is easy, either – if you’re unwell, sometimes getting small stuff done is really hard and you need time to bolster yourself up for them. 

(there’s an article here about how self-care is sometimes a radical act, because it allows people to find and appreciate their own self-worth when the rest of the world might be denying it – but I, a middle class cis het white woman, am largely not denied much based on my identity, so again calling self-care in my previous post was just a bit flippant and really trivialised it as a thing). 

So, this risotto – which, like most risottos, is creamy and rich – is just a good thing to make for your tea. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys cooking, it’s nice to have something to stir for half an hour and this is a good way of getting crispy bacon. It’s tasty but it’s not self-care, I don’t think – for proper self-care chat head to Mind’s website if you need to. 

*even in trying to describe what it is, I feel like I’m doing a bit of a diservice – it’s not really mine to claim and I have no authority in this knowledge, so really I should just shush. 

Bacon and Brussel Risotto
Serves 2
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
55 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
55 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 rashers of streaky bacon
  2. 2 big fistfulls frozen brussel sprouts
  3. A knob of butter and a splash of oil
  4. 2 small onions, finely diced
  5. 2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
  6. 180g risotto rice (arborio, carnoli, or in my case pudding rice)
  7. Roughly 750ml chicken stock
  8. About half a cup parmesan cheese grated
  9. Another knob of butter
Instructions
  1. Take a moment to sort yourself out. Chop your onions, crush your garlic, grate the cheese, etc.
  2. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Put the brussels on a roasting tray and put them in the oven.
  3. Line a second flat roasting tin with baking parchment. Spread the bacon out on the tray, then sort of smooth it out a bit. Put another piece of baking parchment on top, and smooth over the bacon so the top sheet sticks. Put this in the oven.
  4. Remember to keep an eye on both of these things as we keep going, I did burn my bacon a wee bit - it will need about 20 minutes, start checking after 15. We want crisp, golden bacon and slightly charred brussel sprouts.
  5. Keep the stock hot in a saucepan over a medium heat.
  6. In a frying pan over a medium high heat, melt the butter and heat the oil. Once the oil is foaming a little, add the onion. Stir, cook until starting to go translucent - about 6-8 minutes.
  7. Add the garlic, give a good stir and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  8. Put the rice in the frying pan and stir - this is toasting the rice. Once the rice has started to go a bit clear (maybe 4 or 5 mins), add the wine and let this cook down until syruppy (about 5 minutes).
  9. After this, it's all repetition for a while. Add a ladleful of stock, cook until it has nearly all been absorbed by the rice - about 3 or 4 minutes - stirring the whole time. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock and cooking down and stirring until the rice is nearly cooked - just a little al dente.
  10. Add final ladleful of stock, plus add in the cheese and second knob of butter. Stir, and cook until your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper as you please.
  11. Plate up. By this point your bacon and brussels should be done (if they are done earlier, just remove from the oven when they are and set aside. Pop some brussels in with your risotto - I like to leave them whole but your call. You should have bacon you can crumble, too - so crumble that on there and tuck in.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Pizza Cake (or, happy birthday to me)

This is a monstrosity and absolutely worth your time. For my birthday get-together (which involved wine, quiplash and the five people I know in London all coming to sit in my front room), I made Pizza Cake. 

Pizza Cake is not cake but a stuffed, generally slightly soggy bread cooked in the confines of a cake tin. It is glorious but still very much a work in progress. 

I first read about this on James Morton’s site, and I think I tried it a few weeks later. This first time I made it, I followed Morton’s method pretty much to the letter. I was still quite new to bread baking – this was over 2 years ago now – but it was good. The middle was a bit too undercooked and I think I’d used way too much sauce, but it was good enough that I tried again (here is a picture of attempt one). 

A year later I revisited pizza cake. This time, I reduced the sauce a whole lot more and cooked it for a whole lot longer, and the result was better. The innards were still a little bit gooey, but it was more successful. There’s a picture here

This was my third pizza cake and I think I accidentally stumbled into improving it. There were some things I did deliberately, though. Firstly, I reduced the sauce for about an hour and a half until it was thick. In his recipe, James mentions that you could just use tomato puree which I think would work, but I feel like you won’t get the richness of flavour, so instead I just boiled it down until was nearly the thickness of tomato puree. Secondly, I decided to use pre-grated mozzarella instead of the ball stuff, as it carries less excess liquid. 

It’s important to note that during the assembly of this beast, my flatmate Alice was deep frying blocks of macaroni cheese (which I would say you should also do because holy shit, it was good*). Our kitchen is tiny – we have very minimal surface space, so trying to roll out dough, spread sauce and assemble a ridiculous pizza into a tin is challenging when you’re also trying to avoid knocking over a pan of hot oil. Since we were also doing fried mac and cheese (which seriously I cannot recommend enough), I took a cupful of the sauce out, added a splash of water and this became the mac and cheese dip. Due to the crowdedness of our wee kitchen and the slightly lower quantity of sauce (plus I didn’t buy enough pepperoni), this particular iteration was maybe 1 or 2 layers thinner than past versions (I think I had 5 including the lid). But actually I think this meant it retained the thick, meaty juiciness of the thing, but it did help with making sure it was cooked through. The recipe’s sauce and dough quantities here will allow you to cook one with more layers (you’ll need more pepperoni and cheese, possibly), but in retrospect I think thinner is ok. 

Also important – by the time this was in the oven, I was basically half cut on red wine. So between trying not to get oil burns and being just a tiny bit smashed, I did not even think to check my camera settings. Normally on this blog the photos are not great, but that’s why on this occasion they are **particularly** bad and really quite orange. Fortunately, the method is still very much the same as James Morton’s recipe (as are the ingredients, let’s be honest) – so you can use his for instruction. 

This is the most ridiculous show piece and so I think worth doing. It’s that kind of unholy but satisfying food, you know – like, when you eat a full spoonful of proper cake mix, not even waiting until you scrape the bowl, or the fried chicken you get at 3am on a drunk walk home and then eat ravenously in front of Netflix, knowing you won’t remember what you watched in the morning. It’s messy and gooey and gorgeous and I can confirm it’s also good the following morning when you are a little hungover. 

*As a bonus, here’s how to do this: make 1.5x the quantity of Anna Mae’s original mac and cheese recipe (or your preferred macaroni recipe), spread it over a pan and refrigerate for a few hours. Once cold, cut into strips, dip in beaten egg and then coat in breadcrumbs, before frying in a deep pan of sunflower oil until golden and crispy. Serve with a little cup of the tomato sauce used in pizza cake for dipping. Picture of the finished product here

Pizza Cake
Serves 6
Layers of pizza, cooked in a cake tin. Gooey, sloppy and tasty.
Write a review
Print
For the dough
  1. 500g white bread flour
  2. 1 x packet instant yeast (about 7g)
  3. 10g table salt
  4. 40g olive oil (cheap and cheerful is fine)
  5. 325g tepid water (this is about 325ml, too)
For the sauce
  1. Two tins of chopped tomatoes
  2. Some oil
  3. 4 -5 cloves crushed garlic
  4. 2 tbsp tomato puree
  5. Some finely chopped fresh basil (optional, I just happened to also be making bruschetta so had some)
  6. Splash balsamic vinegar
For the other filling
  1. 200g grated mozzarella
  2. A pack or 2 of Pepperoni slices
  3. Anything else you want to put in but try to keep moisture to a minimum
For the dough
  1. In a bowl, measure out the flour. On one side of the bowl, add the yeast, then add the salt on the opposite. Tip in the oil and flour and mix to form a shaggy dough.
  2. You can then do one of two things - the first, leave the dough to rise for one hour, unkneaded and covered with cling film, then return to it an hour later. When it is risen, wet two fingers, slip them into the side of the bowl and fold the dough back in on itself. Rotate the bowl, repeating the finger slip technique until the air has been knocked out. Recover, leave for a further hour. The alternative, knead the dough for ten minutes until smooth, then leave to prove for one hour (I did the no knead method, mostly out of laziness).
  3. If using the first method, put your sauce on after the first prove, if using the second, put sauce on after kneading.
For the sauce
  1. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and add the garlic. Stir a little and cook until fragrant, then add the tomato puree. Stir again, and let cook for a minute or two.
  2. Tip in the tomatoes and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and leave to cook for an hour or so, or until thick.
To assemble
  1. Heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Line the bottom of a loose bottomed cake tin with parchment paper.
  3. When the dough is risen, knock it back. Roll out a small piece of dough (a piece that is slightly smaller than a fist is a good start) into a large circle a little wider than the cake pan. It should be thin sheet - so thin you can see light through, but not so thin it breaks. A good way to do this is to roll the ball out a little bit, then hold it at the top and let it's own weight stretch it, moving your hands around the edge so it stretches evenly(ish). Lay it on the cake pan.
  4. Spread a small amount of the tomato sauce across the dough. Add pepperoni and a small amount of cheese.
  5. Roll out another piece, and repeat, always leaving some excess dough around the edge of the edge of the pan. Essentially, lay a bunch of pizzas on top of each other. Continue until you have two small pieces of dough remaining and a few tablespoons of sauce.
  6. Take one piece of dough, roll out as before, place on top of the pile but do not add sauce or toppings.
  7. Grease the sides of the cake pan with a little butter.
  8. Cut the excess dough off the sides of the pizzas you have built up.
  9. Take your final piece of dough and roll it into a long strip. Wrap this strip around your existing layers, creating sides. Tuck it under the base if you need to and fold it slightly over the top, or trim it if it's way too wide.
  10. Put the sides back on the tin, then put the cake into the oven for one hour.
  11. Take out the cake, add a final layer of sauce to the lid, plus your toppings, then return to the oven for a final 15 minutes. Once it's done, cut into slices and dig in.
Adapted from James Morton
Adapted from James Morton
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Whipped Feta with Slow Roasted Tomatoes (or, celebrating with a big plate of cheese)

I have been in London for 4 entire years. 4 years since I quit uni, went home for one week then got a job in a grotty pub in Clapham on a whim and had to move before I even had time to think it through. In those 4 years I’ve lived in Peckham, Tooting and Islington with a total of 6 flatmates. I have had 5 jobs, seen over 200 shows, breathed really very little clean air and only had one major breakdown. I’ve seen the giraffes at London Zoo, the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace, that really awesome Pangolin in the Natural History Museum and the goths in Camden Town. I’ve been to talks about feminism, cooking classes in the Docklands and down a path of singing trees in Kew Gardens. I’ve stood at the top of St. Paul’s and spent hours trying not to catch the eyes of strangers half a mile underground; been to meetings at the BBC and carried industrial bags of popcorn around the various universities in the East End. 

…and things are, well, good. Great, sometimes. I feel settled and comfortable and if you plopped me down somewhere in zones 1 – 6 I could probably find a bus home. I’ve lived here longer than I lived in Edinburgh, and even though I still pine for Scotland a little bit, I almost can’t imagine leaving London. 

So I’ve been celebrating, sort of. I think with comfort, safety and security – all things I have somehow found in this chaotic jumble of a city – comes the ability to explore a bit and try new things. Cooking new things, wandering around and finding new corners and new neighbourhoods. When celebrating and when trying new things you can’t really do better than finding a fresh way to prepare a shedload of cheese.

I recently signed up the Domestic Sluttery newsletter and it is GREAT. In the last week I have received a recipe for Tunnocks Tea Cake fudge and a history of women’s involvement in the creation of the periodic table. It’s a really lovely thing to get in your inbox each day. 

So this recipe – which is rich, creamy, salty and absolutely delicious – is pretty much just a recipe nicked from them, with a few modifications to method (I hate cleaning the food processor) and quantity. When I saw it pop into my inbox, I needed to make it – it sounded so simple but so luxurious, and it absolutely is. Whether dolloped onto pasta animals – as pictured here – or drizzled over toast, it is delicious. 

Slow Roasted Vegetables with Whipped Feta
Serves 2
Roasted veg, massive plate of cheese.
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr 30 min
Total Time
1 hr 40 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr 30 min
Total Time
1 hr 40 min
For the Whipped Feta
  1. 200g greek yoghurt
  2. 300g feta
  3. Juice of half a lemon
  4. 1 crushed clove of garlic
For the vegetables
  1. A punnet of cherry tomatoes
  2. 4 red peppers, deseeded, destalked and cut in half
  3. 1 onion, cut into quarters or eighths
  4. A good shake of chilli flakes
  5. A few drizzles of the best olive oil you can get
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 180°C. Lay the cut peppers, the onion and the tomatoes on a tray. Drizzle over the olive oil, sprinkle on the chilli flakes and maybe a few grinds of pepper (add salt, too, if you like - but go easy, the whipped feta will be salty as). Mix everything up with your hands to make sure everything is coated in the oil. Put in the oven, and roast for about an hour.
  2. Towards the end of your roasting time, combine all the ingredients for the whipped feta in a bowl (add some pepper, too) - I whisked and whisked and whisked, and though it clumped a bit after a while I got a mostly smooth texture I was happy with. DS does this in a blender which would also be fine.
  3. Sort out whatever you are serving this with - make some toast, cook some pasta, prepare a cheese funnel etc.
  4. Remove the vegetables from the oven, put them over your additional serving bits, dollop on the whipped feta in massive quantities. Add coriander if you want.
Adapted from Domestic Sluttery
Adapted from Domestic Sluttery
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Chorizo and Broccoli Pasta for One (or, a loveletter to my freezer)

When me and my flatmate Alice were looking for a new flat the size of the freezer became a sticking point. As single, busy-ish women who mainly cook for just themselves, our lives are basically a series of tiny races against time before the food we have bought expires and is left to decay in the bottom of the fridge. Or it would, were we not both so hopelessly devoted to our freezer. In the flat we eventually settled on there is a four drawer (two drawers each!) marvel of a freezer, rarely with an inch of space to spare, bursting with half loaves of bread, single fillets of chicken breast, ziplocked bags of bolognese, ice cream and delicious oven chips. 

(I feel like oven chips are one of those things that you probably aren’t supposed to mention if you are trying to be *serious* about food. But hot, crispy oven chips – maybe with a fried egg and bacon – are undoubtedly one of the great joys of this earth and making them from scratch is a faff and they probably wont be as good anyway. If you think this is untrue, pop to your local big Sainsbury’s and buy a bag of frozen American curly fries – the slightly confusing vibrant orange kind – pop them in an oven and then shove them in your face and try to tell me it wasn’t incredibly satisfying. Maybe get some frozen chicken nuggets while you’re out.)

It’s difficult to shop as a single person, because supermarkets sell in bulk. I cannot explain the glee I feel when I got into a shop and it’s the kind that sells courgettes individually instead of in a pack of three. Three is an unhelpful number of courgettes. Buying bulk bags of carrots would mean I could just eat carrots for a week and still have carrots fucking everywhere on Friday. Chillies, as well. Rarely do I need 10+ chillies, but that’s how they’re sold. This type of shopping leads to wastefulness, and my reluctance to take out the bins means I try to avoid wastefulness. 

And so: the freezer. A thing of beauty and of bounty. At all times I store bags of the following: brussel sprouts, sweetcorn, fine green beans, broccoli florets and peas. I also tend to have sausages, because combining them with any of the above makes a meal. I will cut up extra veg (those fucking extra courgettes, or leeks – also often sold in threes), pop them in bags and freeze them, too. Chopped herbs and chillies in there. My most recent freezer revelation is that you can freeze fresh ginger, and grate it as needed without peeling. This also works with lemons and limes. 

It seems worth pointing out – as is important in these times of Bad Food Science – that frozen vegetables are as healthy as fresh. Nutrients are not lost in the freezing process, it does not make food worse and it is not in someway unclean. Freezing is a good way of making things go further, so you don’t have to buy more stuff. 

So, this pasta – which is creamy, a little spicy and very delicious – it not so much made up of store cupboard staples as freezer staples (did I mention when I go to markets that sell cooking chorizo I stock up and fill the freezer? I do, it’s the good stuff). It has minimal ingredients but tastes delicious – the kind of thing that’s good to make after a long day where you need comfort (ie cheese), but also speed. This dish is a loveletter to my freezer and to the vegetables it stops festering, to the money it saves me and the waste it stops me producing, and ultimately for being the thing that allows me regular access to ice cream and facilitates my love of oven chips. Freezing is ❄️ cool ❄️ 

Chorizo and Broccoli Pasta for One
Serves 1
Spicy, silky pasta with pops of green.
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
25 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
25 min
Ingredients
  1. Half a cooking chorizo sausage (I used these - http://www.brindisa.com/store/spanish-ham-chorizo-spanish-meats/spanish-cooking-chorizo/alejandro-chorizo-barbacoa/ - so probably like, 60 - 70g?), diced into small morsels
  2. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  3. About 75g uncooked pasta (I used tagliatelle and used 3 of the nests)
  4. A good amount of parmesan, grated as finely as you can - amount 1/3 of one of those triangular wedge, or enough to form a mound on your chopping board a couple of centimeters high)*
  5. Two fistfuls frozen broccoli florets
Instructions
  1. Take a minute to cut up your chorizo and mince your garlic. Maybe grate
  2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook your pasta according to packet instructions. For the final five minutes of cooking time, add the broccoli.**
  3. Meanwhile, heat just a drop of oil in a frying pan over a medium high heat. Chuck in the chorizo, and cook until it releases a beautiful orange oil and starts to smell fragrant (about 4 - 5 minutes), then add the garlic and cook for a further few minutes.
  4. When the pasta and broccoli are cooked, drain them, reserving a cup of the water it was cooked in.
  5. Remove the chorizo pan from the heat (a residual heat is enough for this next bit), then throw the pasta and broccoli into the pan. Add about 1/3 of the cheese, and some of the water, and mix slowly. The cheese should melt and coat the pasta. Add more cheese, then the same again - add water if needed to assist in the melting and coating. It is best to add cheese in batches, as this helps keep it creamy - add it all in one go and the temperature will drop too quickly and the parmesan will clump. It'll taste fine but won't look as nice.
  6. Add a little salt and pepper if desired and then serve.
Notes
  1. *Apologies for these deeply imprecise measurements, but my advice when dealing with cooking for one is to follow your heart - use the quantities of meat, pasta, cheese and garlic that you alone desire
  2. **Frozen florets are sometimes massive, so I have been known to fish them out of the pasta water once they are mostly cooked and cut them up into bite size chunks.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/