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
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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/

Sausage and Bacon Mac and Cheese (or, new year, new mac)

2017 is here! And riding on the waves of the rolling calendar comes an Amazon Top 10 full of books on how to slim down; office one-upmanship on how little everyone has eaten in their quest to be good; and a new vigour behind talk of clean eating, wellness and weight loss. 

And I am here, too, with a recipe for sausage and bacon mac and cheese that is oozing with calories, comfort and beauty. See, the start of a new year is all about reinventing yourself, and that often seems to focus on reinventing yourself as a thin person. 

I am a size 18. I am also 5ft11 and was given Doc Martens for Christmas so I’m cutting quite an imposing figure of late. I am not thin; I am plus size in both directions, and like so many on the heftier end of the scale, January is an absolute slog. We are knee deep in diet culture, wading through bad science and pictures of slinky women on billboards telling us we just aren’t hot enough.

If there is one thing I began to accomplish in 2016 it was a sense of self-acceptance. I am learning to feel comfortable in my own skin and to recognise my own greatness in even the smallest measures. And it is hard, but it is great. I go to the gym and I run on the treadmill (assisted by my best love of 2016: the Hamilton soundtrack) and I do not care if my arse jiggles because I am just running and I am not throwing away my shot. I eat coco pops because I want to. I will wear loose tops or tight jeans if I want to and I will feel great in either. This is hard, because this time of year all of the advertising world has turned and is trying to make me different. This onslaught *might* make you want to try to shed some weight, but it can also chip away at you until your mental health is in shreds. 

My mental health is improving. It’s better. But it falters a little everytime an outside source tells me not to trust myself, or tells me I could be better. Diets, detoxes, whatever – they don’t care for mental health because mental health can’t get you dem washboard abs, they tell us to use sources outside of our body to determine how to deal with it, rather than taking cues from the thing itself. And everytime I falter, I fight to remind myself that food is gorgeous, and I fight to ensure my relationship with food is based on nourishment and not guilt. 

So, this mac and cheese. This is to nourish you. Diets pop up in the new year, but it’s still winter. A few weeks ago we were all about pumpkin soup and big stews and quality street for breakfast. It’s still winter and comfort food is still good and comforting. You can heat your house while you cook up some sausages, and feel the warmth rise from the bubbling white sauce as you stand over the cooker, stirring. It is a little gooey, with a little crispiness from the baking, a little crunchiness from the nuts, and a deep, hearty meatiness from the sausages and bacon. It will make you feel good enough, and happy enough, and it will give you the nourishment you need to be whoever the fuck you want to be in 2017. 

(This recipe is based on the stuffing mac and cheese in Georgina Hayden’s lovely Stirring Slowly. You can read Georgina’s thoughts on food and self care at The Pool – she is sweeter and less sweary.)

Sausage and Bacon Mac and Cheese
Serves 6
Nourishing.
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Total Time
40 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 - 5 garlic cloves
  2. 75g butter
  3. 100g flour
  4. 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
  5. 750ml milk
  6. 150g mature cheddar (plus a little extra for the top)
  7. 50g parmesan (again, plus a bit more for the top)
  8. 500g pasta (I used spirali, any tube pasta will do)
  9. 6 pork sausages, cooked and cut into chunks
  10. 4 rashers of bacon, cooked and cut up
  11. A few sprigs of rosemary - some finely chopped, some left in little sprigs
  12. Handful of walnuts, roughly chopped*
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta a few minutes short of packet instructions - it should be al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water. Heat the oven to 180°c fan.
  2. Over a medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for a minute until you get a lovely garlic fragrance. Add in the flour and beat, it will form a thick, sort of rounded paste called a roux. As you beat, it should pick up all the flour from the pan, leaving it clean - when this has happened, add in the milk.
  3. Stir the milk and flour-y mix, until it is lump free (use a whisk if you're getting persistent lumps) and a bit thicker. Once it has thickened, chuck in the cheese, mustard and chopped rosemary and continue to stir until the cheese has melted.
  4. Mix the drained pasta into the cheese sauce. If it seems a bit too thick, add in some of the reserved pasta water. Pour into an oven safe dish. Scatter some walnuts and the sprigs of rosemary on top. Add a little extra cheese - grate on some extra parmesan and cheddar.
  5. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden and crispy on top. Serve - maybe with a salad or some roasted kale.
Notes
  1. *These are nice and really do a lot for the texture and taste, though they are the sort of thing you can cut because they are a bit expensive. You could put some dried rosemary in at the same time as the mustard to get a bit of the flavour.
Adapted from Georgina Hayden - Stirring Slowly
Adapted from Georgina Hayden - Stirring Slowly
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Thai Chicken and Red Pepper Curry (or, a fail safe option)

Thai Chicken and Red Pepper Curry

There is no real impetus for me writing up this recipe – no events in my life it reflects, no great trigger that made me make it. That’s why it’s great. When I don’t know what to make, this is what I cook because it is always delicious.

It’s filling, without being too heavy, has a nice depth of warming flavour, is great on its own or served with rice, and is incredibly difficult to fuck up. When I’m sad, or busy, or just not sure what I fancy, or have mates coming over, those are the things I want. I want a big pot of simple food, where I can stash the leftovers and gorge on them for the next few days. The veg can be swapped up, and you could eliminate the chicken and make it vegetarian if you wanted, too.

Thai Chicken and Red Pepper Curry

I should say that as I fall deeper into cooking and learning how to do it, I have acquired less common and more middle class ingredients (which, by the way, I have a really complex relationship with – but that’s a whole different post). In this, I have used palm sugar and dried kaffir lime leaves. While both are available in bigger branches of Sainsburys, they aren’t necessarily cheap or necessarily necessary, but they do add to depth of flavour. I am totally of the opinion that good food should be both nourishing and affordable, so you can forgo these for sure. If you’re going to make this often, both bits last in cupboards for basically all of time, so I say they are worth the investment for this sort of thing. 

Thai Chicken and Red Pepper Curry

One thing, though: fresh coriander is great. Fresh herbs can seem expensive because they come in big bunches so you might end up with a lot of food waste. But here they offer a really nice, warm and peppery spice that lifts the whole thing – so buy a bunch and find other ways to use it, if you can (I tend to get it from the Turkish supermarket round the corner where it’s 70p for big, big bunches). 

Also I use Sainsbo’s own brand Thai red curry paste and it’s great. I’ll try making my own at some point but that largely negates the joy of convenience and simplicity here. 

Thai Chicken and Red Pepper Curry

Thai Chicken and Red Pepper Curry
Serves 4
mmm curry
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
50 min
Ingredients
  1. A bit of vegtable oil
  2. 1 onion, diced
  3. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  4. Thumb sized bit of ginger, minced
  5. 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste*
  6. 2 red peppers, diced
  7. 600g chicken thighs, cut into bite size chunks
  8. 300 ml coconut milk (which is 1 tin)
  9. 2-3 dried kaffir lime leaves
  10. 1 tsp palm sugar
  11. A few fitsfuls of green beans, trimmed
  12. Fresh coriander by the bucketload
Instructions
  1. 1. Heat some vegetable oil in a pan or pot over a medium heat (I used a cast iron casserole dish, because I use it for everything), then add the onion, garlic, peppers and ginger and cook for a a few minutes, until the onion starts to go clear and it smells great.
  2. 2. Add the curry paste, stir coat everything else, then cook for a few more minutes.
  3. 3. Add the chicken and cook - you might need to keep moving it about every now and then - until it is browned all over.
  4. 4. Chuck in the can of coconut milk, stir until it gets coloured, then add the palm sugar and lime leaves. Turn the heat down and leave for about 5 - 10 mins, stirring ocassionally, to thicken slightly.
  5. 5. Throw in the green beans and cook for 2 minutes, until they are bright green.
  6. 6. Serve, covered in fresh coriander, either with or without rice.
Notes
  1. *This makes a mildly spicy curry - use more or less according to your own tastes
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Spicy Chicken with Sweet Corn Fritters and Avocado (or, going away party)

spicy-chicken-and-sweetcorn-fritters-1

August has ended up being pretty full on for me, somehow. Normally it’s the down time at work – a time to clear cupboards and finally recycle the mountain of coke bottles on my desk – but this year, I’m not really around. 

It’s not like I’ve got some mad stressful month coming up, because I haven’t. This week, I’m off to a festival with work (can’t complain, right?), so I’m mostly going to be sitting outdoors reading and swimming in lakes. Following that, I’m back for a week before heading up to Edinburgh. Hanging out at Fringe is technically my summer holiday, I suppose, though I can’t imagine it’s going to be relaxing. Even just visiting Fringe is exhausting. 

spicy-cSpicy Chicken with Avocado and Sweetcorn Fritters

It’ll all be fun, though. It just means I won’t be at home much. Let’s not forget, I am a quiet mess of a person. I get a bit stressed when I don’t sleep in my own bed for a while, or when I’m constantly in crowds. Sometimes, I need to take some time for me, and this dinner – which is simple, but has enough elements to feel fancy – was me taking a breath. Calm before the storm and all that. 

This is also a bit of a tribute to Tooting, having been inspired after I had some totally incredible sweetcorn fritters for brunch at Antipodean Tooting hotspot MUD. I’d been thinking of them for a while, and what I could serve them with, and then stumbled up this recipe in Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand (which is a marvellously warm cookbook that I wholeheartedly recommend). Her fritters used polenta, though, which I just haven’t yet found a way to abide – so I did my own. I’ve also changed up the spice blend on the chicken just a little. It’s wonderful – though it is spicy, which is gorgeous when married with the creamy avocado mix. If you’re not serving it with something to tone down the spice, you might want to use a bit less cayenne. 

Spicy Chicken with Avocado and Sweetcorn Fritters

This is a good meal for you and mate in the middle of a busy month. Take a moment to stand over frying fritters and feel the heat of the chicken taking over your tastebuds. Then go and party and see shows. Top summer. 

Spicy Chicken with Avocado and Sweetcorn Fritters

Spicy Chicken with Sweetcorn Fritters and Avocado
Serves 2
A very spicy bit of chicken, crispy sweetcorn fritters and lovely cooling avocado
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
1 hr
For the corn fritters
  1. 1 1/2 cups frozen sweetcorn
  2. 1 egg
  3. 2 1/2 heaped tbsps plain flour
  4. 1 or 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  5. A pinch of chilli flakes
For the avocado thing
  1. 2 avocados
  2. 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  3. 2 tsp cyder vinegar
  4. Juice of 1 lime
  5. 4 tbsp double cream
  6. A few sprigs of coriander, chopped
For the chicken
  1. 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
  2. 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  3. 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  4. 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  5. 1 tbsp butter
  6. 1 tbsp olive oil
  7. 1 1/2 tsps English mustard
  8. salt and pepper to taste
  9. 2 chicken legs (that's both thigh and drumstick)
Instructions
  1. 1. Make corn fritter mix. Defrost the corn just a little in the microwave, then put it in a bowl with the spring onions and chilli flakes. I like to take a potato masher and mash this just a bit, but that's probs unnecessary. Add the egg and the flour and mix until it's all a big corny batter.
  2. 2. Preheat oven to 180°C. In a wee bowl, mix the turmeric, cayenne, cumin, oil, sugar, butter and mustard into a paste. Pop the chicken in a roasting dish, and smother it in the spicy paste. Pop it in the oven and roast for about 40 mins, or until it is cooked through.
  3. 3. It's avocado time: cut the avocados in half, remove the big stones and scoop out the flesh. Mash it a bit with the red wine vinegar, cyder vinegar, lime juice, cream and coriander- it's best when it's not too smooth, so there's variety in the texture, so don't get too keen with the mashing.
  4. 4. Heat a fair bit of vegetable oil in the pan (I got for about 5mm deep, I think - could go more, but I live in fear of heating large amounts of oil). It is hot enough when, if you drop in a bit of corn, it sort of fizzes. Drop in heaps of the mixture (you should get four big fritters, plus a change), and fry until the underside of the fritter that forms is a deep golden colour, then flip and wait for the other side to match.
  5. 5. Remove the chicken from the oven, serve up with the fritters and avocado.
Adapted from Diana Henry
Adapted from Diana Henry
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Irn Bru Gammon (or, girder pig for a great nation)

Irn Bru Gammon

This week, I do desperately miss Scotland. 

I loved Scotland’s coldest winters with ankle deep snow and gothic architecture and the extinct volcano towering over it all. I miss feeling in tune with a place, feeling like a little bit of it was mine, feeling like I knew it. 

On Thursday, the majority of Scotland’s population voted to Remain the EU. I have never been so proud nor ached so desperately for a nation. So, Scotland, my love, this one is for you. I’ve been meaning to write this recipe up for a while now, but this – in the midst of political turmoil across the UK – really felt like the right time. 

Irn Bru Gammon

So, this is Irn Bru gammon. I went through a real gammon phase, recently. There was always a hunk of meat on the boil, always a big chunk of pig in the fridge to pick at. It started with Nigella and her now infamous ham in cola, and progressed when I discovered Crumbs and Petals –  a Scottish site which since seems to have fallen off the internet – and their recipe for Irn Bru gammon, which I’ve adapted a bit.

It’s perfect – sweet, salty and meaty – a loveletter to Scotland in the form of a bastardised Nigella recipe and a whole lot of Irn Bru. It is perfect for a celebration, too – a lovely centre piece at a party – or the perfect comforting commiseration meal if your country just threw itself down the pan. Scotland, I love you.

Irn Bru Gammon 

Irn Bru Gammon
Sweet, salty, meaty and everything wonderful about Scotland
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr 50 min
Total Time
3 hr
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
1 hr 50 min
Total Time
3 hr
Ingredients
  1. 1 gammon joint
  2. 1 onion, cut into 8ths or very roughly chopped
  3. Zest of one orange
  4. Irn Bru (0.75 - 1 litre) plus some water
  5. 4 tbsp honey
  6. 1 1/2 tsps English mustard
Instructions
  1. Put the gammon in a pot, fat side down if you can. Pour in Irn Bru until it comes halfway up the gammon, then add water until the liquid covers the gammon. Throw in the orange zest and the onion. Bring the pan to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and leave to cook for an hour per kilo (mine was 1.4 kilos, so took just less than 1hr 30) - you might need to add 20 mins if it's just out of the fridge.
  2. Half hour before it's done, preheat your oven to 240°C. While it's cooking, mix up the honey, mustard, and an extra tsp of irn bru into a wee bowl.
  3. Remove the gammon from the pot (can be tricky, I used some tongues and a flatmate to assist) and place on a baking tray, fat side up. Cut off the layer of fat, if there is one, and score a diamond pattern into the top. Pop cloves into the diamonds, and then smother it in the honey mustard glaze mix.
  4. Put in the oven and cook for about 20 mins, until the glaze has turned a bit golden. Eat in thick slices alongside a glass of Irn Bru.
Adapted from Nigella / Crumbs and Petals
Adapted from Nigella / Crumbs and Petals
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Sausage, Fennel and Lentil Stew (or, spirit food)

S
My spirit animal – I think – would be a sun bear. They are bears, small but still a little stocky, and are generally quite shy, solitary creatures. They will kick off if provoked though. Plus, they have incredibly long tongues, so they are always a little bit awkward, a little bit funny looking. 

Sausage, Fennel and Lentil Stew

If there was a spirit animal equivalent for food – a food patronus or something – then this Sausage, Fennel and Lentil Stew would be mine. I feel a great affinity for it. It’s a bit simple, a bit untidy, never really gonna scrub up good or look nice in a photo. But it’s lovely at its centre – a very hearty dinner. If it was a person, it would give good hugs (I do). Plus, it’s good on a budget, but still just a tiny tiny bit unusual, since fennel doesn’t crop up that often. Fennel is wonderfully fragrant, it adds to the comforting taste of this dish, but it makes it a bit quirky – it’s the fennel that makes it a hug, followed by an unexpectedly off-colour joke. Or something. 

sausages

Basically, this food looks a bit dodge but it’s actually alright. Better than alright, if you catch it on a high-self esteem day. I’m a bit like that, and I like reasons to talk about sun bears. 

It’s really, really not photogenic. 

Sausage Fennel and Lentil Stew

Sausage, Fennel and Lentil Stew
Serves 4
A hearty, delicious but deeply un-appetising looking meal.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 15 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 15 min
Ingredients
  1. 8 pork sausages
  2. A little oil
  3. 4 rashers bacon
  4. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 1 onion, finely diced
  6. 2 small bulbs fennel*, finely diced, stalks discarded
  7. 1 1/2 tsps dried rosemary
  8. 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
  9. 1 cup speckled lentils
  10. 4 cups chicken stock
  11. 2 bay leaves
Instructions
  1. First, brown the sausages over a medium heat in a deep pan in a little oil. Keep them moving to make sure they brown evenly and don't burn.
  2. Add the bacon, and let cook a bit. Still keep the sausages moving.
  3. Add the onion, fennel and garlic. Stir to coat in oil and fat, and cook until they begin to turn clear and smell lovely.
  4. Add the rosemary and fennel seeds, and let cook for another minute.
  5. Then, pour in the stock and add the lentils. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Now, let the lentils cook and the stock reduce, stirring occasionally. Thiswill take about 45 minutes, then you can enjoy trying to serve it in a way that looks attractive.
Notes
  1. *One big one would probably also be fine.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Lemon, Kale and Goat’s Cheese Risotto (or, meditation)

Lemon, Kale and Goat's Cheese Risotto

Risotto is meditative. It’s like a ritual. A short, delicious ritual. You ladle in stock, and stir. Ladle in stock, stir. Repeat. 

I’m one of life’s obsessives; ideas or thoughts get stuck in my head and spin round and round. Right now is one of those times where darker thoughts have gotten lodged, and so I’m at a low ebb. Risotto is perfect for these times because you can get lost in it for just a little while, and turn your thoughts only to the stock, the rice and the stirring. 

risotto stir stir stir

This risotto, in particular, is good for times of low ebb and tumbling thoughts. It’s spiked with lemon juice and zest, which is a sharp but somehow sunny taste, and there’s kale in it, so you can feel like you are looking after yourself properly. I always associate kale with being extra, effort-filled healthy for some reason – but it is good. There is also goat’s cheese, which, with all it’s milky, tangy creaminess, is one of my most favourite of foods. It’s the goat’s cheese (and the parmesan, of course), that makes this risotto extra comforting. 

Lemon, Kale and Goat's Cheese Risotto

This is my self-care. This is me taking twenty minutes to stop, to stir, to get all caught up in the smell of hot stock and to mix cheese into rice until it is beautifully creamy. I’ve never gone in for the meditation or mindfulness stuff, really, but if I was going to it would all be based around risotto. It would be stirring, stirring, stirring, and then eating rice with a load of butter in it. 

Lemon, Kale and Goat's Cheese Risotto

Lemon, Kale and Goat's Cheese Risotto
Serves 2
Stir. Stock. Repeat.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 1/2 cups chicken stock*
  2. 1 onion, finely chopped
  3. 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  4. 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  5. A big-ish knob of butter and a glug of oil
  6. 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  7. 1 cup of white wine
  8. Zest of juice of 1 lemon
  9. A few handfuls of kale
  10. 3 rough tbsp soft goat's cheese, plus a little extra for garnish
  11. 2 rough tbsp of grated parmesan
  12. Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat the stock in a saucepan. Have a ladle to hand.
  2. In a deep-ish frying pan over a medium to low heat, melt the butter and heat the oil together.
  3. Once the butter is doing a gentle bubble but not burning, add the onion and garlic. Stir to coat in the oil and butter and let it cook for a few minutes, until the onion starts to go clear. After a few minutes, add the thyme and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the rice. Fry the rice for a minute or two - it will start to go clear. You might need to stir it once or twice to stop it sticking.
  5. When your rice is clear, add the wine. Cook. Keep stirring.
  6. When most of the wine has been absorbed by the rice, add a ladleful of stock. Keep stirring.
  7. When the stock has been absorbed, add more stock. Stir. Stir.
  8. Repeat the adding of stock and the stirring. Keep tasting, too, to see when your rice is cooked through but retains a little bite. Stock, stir, repeat.
  9. When your rice is nearly cooked, add the kale and lemon zest in with the next ladle of stock, and stir. The kale will wilt a little.
  10. When your rice is completely cooked, take it off the heat. Stir in the goat's cheese, lemon juice and parmesan, along with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, with a little extra goat's cheese on top.
Notes
  1. *Use vegetable stock to make this recipe vegetarian
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Pasta Amatriciana (AKA A Reason to Talk About Jessica Jones)

Pasta Amatriciana
I just finished a rewatch of Jessica Jones. 

Jessica Jones focuses on a once super-hero, now PTSD suffering ace PI, who gets tangled up with a psychopath who just so happens to have mind controls powers and be desperately obsessed with her. 

jessica jones gif

But you know that, because obviously you’ve already watched it through once, watched it again and concluded that it is the best show of all time. 

(Okay, maybe not the best show of all time… but Bake Off isn’t back until August)

I just really, really love it, guys. At its very core, it’s all about a friendship between women and about recovery, but surrounding that is this kind of gritty crime drama about the most haunting villain in all of the history of ever. It’s brilliant, because it’s so different from the other things Marvel are doing, and actually championing showing women on screen as strong and flawed and, y’know, like real people. This is a step in the right direction. Also there are fights. 

Pasta Amatriciana

Let’s just talk about Kilgrave for a minute, as well, because he is really chilling. World domination is the common aim, but Kilgrave has arguably the most useful power of all of the powers in the MCU, and yet he is using it nearly entirely to perve on women and make people piss themselves or slice open their skin – that is some terrifying stuff. Even though he is pure evil, though, he is occasional a right charmer, or sometimes someone to pity, and then the show manages to make you feel dirty for pitying him. Just wanted to throw this in here, because he is the slimiest villain ever and it is so watchable. There aren’t many villains that make me want to cook something. 

Pasta Amatriciana

So, on my second watch through, while crawling in my skin as Kilgrave does his next reprehensible thing, I noticed he references this pasta dish a couple of times – his favourite, apparently – Pasta Amatriciana. I did a quick search to see what this was, and then decided to have a go at making a version. 

It’s surprising, in some ways, because if you were Kilgrave you could demand anything of any level of grandeur and get it, but actually this pasta is very simple and can be prepared in about half an hour and it’s likely you have all the ingredients to hand. Perhaps it is so he can roll into someone’s house and know they can make it without needing to go to the store and therefore potentially leave his field of influence, or perhaps he just really loves pancetta. 

Pasta Amatriciana
He does like Jessica Jones. In some ways this pasta is like Jessica Jones. It looks simple enough, but when you get into it it’s actually pretty firey, and the sauce is cooked down for long enough that the flavours get deep and a little more complex. Plus, the name sounds pretentious, which strikes me as something Kilgrave would really go for. 

It’s a really great pasta to watch Jessica Jones with, too, because it’s comforting and warm, and really delicious. So as you watch people being told to put their hands in blenders, you can be reminded that your world is OK, and no one is controlling you, and you can definitely go back for seconds. 

Try it. You will love it. 

Pasta Amatriciana

Pasta Amatriciana
Serves 2
A spicy tomato pasta full of pancetta. A Kilgrave favourite. You will love it.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 onion
  2. 1 cup pancetta (the stuff you get in cubes in the cold meats section of Sainsbo's will be fine)
  3. 1 tsp chilli flakes (or, to taste)
  4. 1 cup dry white wine
  5. 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  6. Pecorino, grated, about 3/4 of a cup, with a little reserved for garnish
  7. More than enough pasta for 2, I used spaghetti; enough so that if I held it in my first it formed a tube with the same diameter as a £2 coin*
Instructions
  1. First, chop your onion. I went for coarse slices over diced, for no reason other than I find that visually pleasing and I just got a cleaver and slicing is suddenly very enjoyable.
  2. Fry the pancetta on a very low heat, until it just begins to crisp.
  3. Throw in your sliced onion, stir to coat the onion in the delicious bacon fat, and keep frying for a few minutes until the onion gets clear and tender.
  4. Add the chilli flakes, stir again so the small red flakes stick to the onion, like red chicken pox on pale skin (but delicious)
  5. Chuck in the wine, and let it reduce. If you are in a hurry you can turn the heat up and keep stirring, if you are not, leave it. It will reduce in its own time, until syruppy is about right.
  6. Throw the tinned tomatoes in, and again leave it to reduce down, because I very much think this should be a thick sauce. This might be another 10 minutes.
  7. While your sauce reduces, that's a good time to cook your pasta. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook according to packet instructions.
  8. When the pasta is done, drain it. Take your sauce off the heat, and stir in the pecorino. When the cheese is melted, throw the pasta in too, and mix it all up, before serving. Eat while watching your most favourite episode of Jessica Jones
Notes
  1. Traditionally, this is apparently made with Bucatti, which is like hollow spaghetti. Sainsbury's do not sell this.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Turkey, Cranberry and Brie Toasties (or, love of leftovers)

Turkey, Cranberry and Brie Toasties

Christmas is done. This year, it was just me and my parents. My mum and I, despite lacking two additional family members since my brother and his wife are up in Yorshire, decided not to scale down dinner at all. 12 Yorkshire puddings for 3 people obviously seemed about right. This Boxing Day, we are therefore up to our knees in Celebrations wrappers and a shedload of leftovers.

In a mission to start to work through the leftovers, I made these sandwiches. They are quick, because Christmas Day is all about big and bold and excess, but Boxing Day is about lay ins and good books and lounging. But Christmas, as a time, is really all about deliciousness, which these sandwiches definitely are. 

Turkey, Cranberry and Brie Toasties

(Actually, I think there was a time when Christmas was all about toys and watching my dad put stickers on things and making Lego constructs, and another time when it was about getting as far in to the latest Final Fantasy game as possible in a single day, but now it is absolutely all about food).

These toasties are very buttery, a little crispy, and full of cheese, and a bit fruity, which is everything you want in a season so wholeheartedly dedicated to calories. They are really quite filling, too. They are quick enough that you can whip them up for some people you love, increase surplus fridge space, do a quick clean and still have time to fit in a watch of Paddington in the afternoon. 

Turkey, Cranberry and Brie Toasties

 

Turkey, Cranberry and Brie Toasties
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. Bread
  2. Leftover Christmas Turkey
  3. Cranberry Sauce
  4. Brie
  5. Butter
  6. Salad Leaves (I used rocket)
For one sandwich
  1. Cut two slices of bread. Lightly butter each side of each slice.
  2. On one side of one slice, pile up some brie.
  3. On one side of the other slice, spread over some cranberry sauce, and pile on some turkey.
  4. In a frying pan, over a medium heat, melt a little butter. Then, place the brie slice (butter down, brie up) into the pan, and fry until the underside browns.
  5. When the bread has browned, throw a handful of rocket onto the brie.
  6. Then, take the cranberry-turkey covered slice, and place it (turkey down, butter up), quickly, onto the brie slathered bread.
  7. Flip the whole sandwich, and let the bread on the other side brown again.
  8. Remove, serve. Repeat for as many sandwiches as you need, or want.
Adapted from from Christmas Dinner
Adapted from from Christmas Dinner
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Minestrone (or, a soup full of stars)

Minestrone

“She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.”

There are times, even when life is all well and good, when I wish I was somewhere else. Right now, as the streets of London ache with cold, is one of those times.

My office is cold. The radiator is bust. We sit at our computers huddled in coats and clutching hot drinks and willing the heat to come on. Or willing the day to end so we can be elsewhere. Probably somewhere with central heating. It’s as I will the day to end and will the heat to come on that my mind wanders, and my head goes off into the stars and imagines everywhere else I might want to be. 

I like the cold. I just do not like to be trapped in it. If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would choose a lodge, maybe somewhere in the snowy Scottish Highlands. There would be whole wooden cupboards full of blankets, and a tiny little fireplace, and bookshelves full of young adult fiction. And access to the internet. In the lodge, it is ok for me to be by myself when I want to. It is ok for me to go outside and stare at the mountains, and play in the snow, and build a snowman, and come back inside all ruddy-cheeked to warm up with deep mugs of hot chocolate and pink marshmallows.

Soffrito

If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would choose a city. Not London. I would choose somewhere I have never been before – Krakow, maybe, or Berlin, where beer is cheap – and I would have someone with me to hold my hand as we run around exploring, taking in tall buildings and art we don’t understand and brand new sights. We would toast with strangers in beer halls and kiss in the moonlight in the main square. 

If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would choose to be on the beach. Not in the scorching heat, but when it is warm enough to only wear a t-shirt. It would be the good kind of beach, with proper sand for sculpture. I would feel confident enough in my own skin to wear shorts and to let ice cream drip down my chin. I would bring friends, and we would throw a frisbee to each other and bury someone up to their neck. We would wade in the shallow tide and collect shells, and we would do it all without any sense of crippling self-consciousness. 

Minestrone Pasta Stars

If I could pick to be somewhere else, I would pick a swimming pool, with knotted hair scraped back from my face and warm water gently supporting me as I lift an arm, and pull, the other arm up, and pull, and kick kick kick. I would lie on my back and drift through the water, and put my ears down under the surface and enjoy the strange, muffled sound of everything around me. 

Sometimes, you cannot be where you would choose. I can’t. I need to come to work, and earn money, and all of those real person things. And so, to make the cold bearable, I made a soup. In it, I put those little pasta stars, so that when I stare into the soup (clutched between my icy white hands), it feels a bit special. The stars, surrounded by all the different colours of vegetables, remind me that there is a whole world outside the window. But for now there is soup, and it is warming, and filling, and a little bit special. 

“Adventures are all very well in their place, but there’s a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain.” 

Minestrone

 

Minestrone
Serves 4
A warming, comforting and deeply flavourful soup, full of little stars.
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
40 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. A knob of butter
  2. 1 onion
  3. 2 carrots
  4. 3 sticks celery
  5. 1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed in a pestle and mortar
  6. 5 fat cloves of garlic
  7. A few shakes of chilli powder, if liked
  8. A tin of chopped tomatoes (400g)
  9. Water - enough to fill the tin 2 and a half times
  10. 2 chicken stock cubes*
  11. 3/4 cup pasta stars (or any other small pasta)
  12. A tin of cannellini beans (400g)
  13. A few handfuls of spinach, roughly chopped
Instructions
  1. First, make a soffrito. Chop up the carrot, the onion and the celery - as chunky or as fine as you like, depending on how chunky or fine you like your soup to be.
  2. Over a medium heat, melt the butter in a big saucepan. When it's melted, add the carrot, onion and celery - your soffrito - and let cook for a few minutes until the onion starts to go a little clear. Keep it moving so the butter coats the soffrito and the vegetables start to shine like little gems.
  3. Mince your garlic. Add the crushed fennel seeds and garlic to the pan and leave to cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic gets a bit fragrant.
  4. Add your tin of tomatoes to the pan, then the water. Just re-fill the can from the tap, put it in the pan, repeat, repeat again but with a half full can. You can use more or less depending how thick you like a soup.
  5. Crush in the stock cubes, add some chilli and maybe a few grinds of black pepper.Give it a stir to blend in the stock cubes. Bring to the boil.
  6. Add in the beans and the cup of pasta. Leave on the heat for about 10-15 minutes, until the pasta has cooked through.
  7. Add the spinach, stir, and cook for 2 minutes or so until just wilted.
  8. Serve, or put in tupperware in the fridge ready to be taken to work and held close for warmth.
Notes
  1. *you could use vegetable stock to make this recipe vegetarian
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/