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/

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.
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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.
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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/

Peanut Butter Noodles (or, I Am Not Rory Gilmore)

I have fallen into a Star’s Hollow Spiral; a big Gilmore Gulf. I have been watching Gilmore Girls ad nauseum for a while. 

Originally, it felt like something that would be comforting in the dark winter nights, like Friends but without the homophobia. It was, for a while. It was easy, simple television where people talked about food all the time. There was always this underlying feeling that I didn’t actually like the show much – that Lorelai is kind of forcing Rory into a friendship, that Luke is a plaid shirt both inside and out, that Rory is a bit wet and that the whole show should be Paris and Kirk going on a roadtrip anyway  – but the silliness and slightly saccharine plot lines were nice enough to have on in the background.

But then, as I reached Season 5, I was hit with a sad realisation: I am Rory Gilmore. I am not fiercely independent Lorelai or dependable Dean, I am not angry, imperfect, endlessly entertaining Paris – no, I am Rory. 

I should imagine if I’d watched this show when it was on the early noughties, I would’ve wanted to be Rory. Bookish, clever, unpopular-but-unfussed Rory, with her good grades and unusual disinterest in any kind of contemporary fiction. Now, of course, I’d choose to be Paris. But I am Rory.

I read something that said as the seasons trudge along, everyone makes uncharacteristic decisions because of some plot – including Rory’s choice to leave university after she learns she might not be good enough to follow the career path she’s dreamed of. 

But it just didn’t seem uncharacteristic to me. Rory has been told her whole life she’s so good, and her performance in everything corroborates it. So when she isn’t, it all collapses, and she reacts in an extreme way because it suddenly seems like everyone’s been lying to her and she’s actually been hopelessly inadequate all along. And, well… I am a bit Rory Gilmore. Without sounding like an arrogant twat, I breezed through school on a wave of merits and As and then got to uni and fucked it. Uni was hard and I wasn’t good enough and so I quit because I wasn’t used to finding things hard (there are some footnotes to the situation I could add here but let’s leave those for now). I am Rory Gilmore, because sometimes I just can’t cope with not being good enough. In the months Rory spends living at her grandparents lamenting her very existence, I found so much of myself in her.

But I’m also not Rory Gilmore. Because I actually learned to cook, because once I’d well and truly failed at the thing I thought I was meant to do, I needed to learn to take care of myself or risk wallowing in the depths of self-pity for the rest of time. So I did, and that involves stuff like these Peanut Butter Noodles, which are quick and delicious and I love them so much that I often make them in big batches so I can take them to work with me and enjoy the nutty, silky, vibrant flavour at my desk. I might be a Rory in terms of my ability to handle failure, but I’m a Sookie St James wannabe in the kitchen.

Oh, and I’m also not a Rory Gilmore because I will literally never think someone is cool if they try to impress me with a magic trick. Never. 

Peanut Butter Noodles
Serves 2
Smooth and nourishing nutty noodles.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 tbsp peanut butter
  2. 3 tbsp soy sauce
  3. 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  4. 1 tbsp honey
  5. 1/2 - 3/4 cup water (depends how "wet" you like a stir fry)
  6. A glug of oil (sunflower or sesame oil is good)
  7. 2/3 cloves garlic, minced
  8. Thumbnail sized bit of ginger, minced
  9. 3 or four handfuls of veg (I used carrot sticks, two peppers and sugar snap beans for this one - but bamboo shoots, tenderstem broccoli, mushrooms.... it's all good)
  10. 2 nests of noodles (I used the straight to wok ribbon kind here)
  11. 2 or 3 spring onions, sliced
  12. Juice of half a lime
Instructions
  1. In a wee bowl, mix together the peanut butter, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, honey and water, along with a little salt.
  2. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan until it's proper hot, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir it about for a minute, without letting it burn, then add in the veg (carrots take longer to cook unless sliced well thin, so maybe give them a bit longer before adding in the rest). Keep it moving until the veg is nearly cooked through.
  3. Add the noodles to the pan, along with the sauce*. Keep moving for about 2 minutes until the noodles are cooked through and the sauce is hot. Stir through the spring onions, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Notes
  1. *If you're not using the straight to wok kind, cook the noodles according to pack instructions before throwing them 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/