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/

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/