Category Archives: Personal

Chicken, Bacon and Cannellini Bean Stew

Chicken Bacon and Cannellini Bean stew

I returned home from holiday last Thursday with a lot of good intentions. I would swim every day! Eat more vegetables! Buy more warm clothes! Stop worrying about work! Finally get around to uninstalling Kim Kardashian: Hollywood from my phone! (Seriously, that thing is a bloody time sink), blog more! While I’ve not exactly kicked these bold statements of intent to the kerb, I’ve certainly nudged a fair few of them out of sight. But my promise to myself to blog more keeps pinging back up like a stray piece of fringe and hitting me in the face. Which means I should probably try to do something about it.

While I’ve not exactly fallen out of love with food blogging, I’d be lying if I said that my relationship with it hasn’t cooled out slightly. I think back to the halcyon days of 2012 where I was writing here every week and dearly wish I could get that spark back. It’s not so much that I haven’t been inspired, more that I haven’t been arsed to put aside the minutes and hours required to take pictures of my dinner and write stories about it. Perhaps blogging and I need to go on a dirty weekend somewhere and rediscover each other. 

As it is, I’m back for now, and I’m going to do my damnedest to keep the spark alive. So, here’s a stew I threw together on a Monday evening in late Summer when I should have been doing something more worthwhile such as going out for a run, swimming 50 lengths or reading improving literature. Combining chicken thighs (a vastly underrated cut of meat), bacon and a whole heap of vegetables I found moldering away at the bottom of my fridge, this is a stew which comes together in an hour, makes enough to feed a small army and freezes beautifully. I used carrots and green beans as those were the ones I had to hand, but I know that this also works well with various root vegetables (such as turnips or butternut squash.) The cannellini beans add a nice bit of starch and help to thicken the sauce which is so delicious  you could happily lap it up with a spoon. 

I’m not sure if this is a stew fit to cure my blogger’s block. But I suppose it’s as good a place to start as any other.

CHICKEN, BACON AND CANNELLINI BEAN STEW (Serves Four)

You will need:

  • 4 chicken thighs (preferably with the skin still attached, as I think that the fat rendered from the skin gives the dish a real hit of flavour)
  • 4 rashers of good quality bacon, chopped into chunks
  • 1 medium sized onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 medium sized glass of white wine (roughly 200ml)
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
  • 2 – 3 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 large handful of green beans, topped, tailed and sliced in half
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Make It!

  • Preheat your oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Season the chicken thighs well with salt and pepper. 
  • Heat up a good glug of olive oil in a flameproof casserole dish. Place the chicken thighs skin side down, and fry until golden. Transfer to a plate and remove the skin if you wish. Add the bacon to the pot and fry until it is beginning to turn crisp. Add the sliced onion, and continue to cook for five minutes until the onions turn soft.
  • Stir in the flour, and cook out until the flour is fully incorporated into the fat. Add the wine, the stock and the herbs and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper if required. Return the chicken thighs to the pot, along with the sliced chunks of carrot. Cover, and place in the oven.
  • Pour yourself a glass of wine. Drink it. This should take you roughly half an hour or so, by which point it’s time to check your casserole. Add the drained cannellini beans and sliced green beans. Cover, and place back in the oven for another half an hour. Pour yourself another glass of wine. (Try not to kill time by calling your parents and getting distracted while your Dad tells you about his new Disabled Person’s railcard.)
  • The casserole is done when the chicken thighs are cooked through. The green beans and cannellini beans should still be firm to the bite. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. 

A Small Announcement

I am notoriously terrible at keeping secrets. When I was a kid, people would always be loathe to share their gossip with me as they knew that I’d inevitably tell everyone. Which is why I’ve been finding it incredibly bloody hard not to blab the most exciting piece of  news I’ve had all year. Namely that I am going to be writing a book.

Yes, that’s right. A book. A real life book that’s going to be sold in shops, and on Amazon, and which has my name on the cover and everything. Its preliminary title is ‘Eat Y’self Fitter – The politics of what’s on your plate,’  it’s going to be published on Zero Books, and I’m aiming for it to be an examination of food in the UK in the 21st century. Touching on everything from food education to the ascent of the celebrity chef and ‘cupcake culture’, it should (hopefully) take a witty and informed look at how we buy, cook and consume our food, with each chapter being accompanied by an original recipe made out of affordable, seasonable ingredients.

Ever since I signed the contract, my mood keeps deviating between massive excitement and huge, crippling, (almost overwhelming) fear. Basically, I intend to spend the next few months locked indoors, necking whisky out of the bottle, and cooking like a demon whilst Mr. Cay shouts words of encouragement at me. I will probably be putting calls out on Twitter desperately asking for people to take baked goods off my hands before I start leaving them on people’s doorsteps a la Bill Drummond, so if you’re going to be in the Liverpool or Manchester area in the near future and fancy a massive slab of cake, drop me a line. 

So yes. A book. It would be an understatement to say that this has made what has, occasionally, been a bit of a shitty year OK again. I would be doing cartwheels, but I’ve been full of a cold and besides, the last time I did a cartwheel, I ended up doing my back in.  All I’ll say for now is that it’s my birthday on Tuesday, and quite frankly, this is the best present I could have asked for. Now all I have to do is write the thing. Lets go.

Knife and Fork image used courtesy of Flickr user Horia Varlan under a Creative Commons license

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Why I Run

Food, I love you. But unfortunately, you appear not to love me back. If I had my way, I would spend my days in an oasis of carbs and red meat; feasting on steaks, burritos the size of baby’s heads, loaves of sourdough bread and huge heaped mountains of pasta, all washed down with the finest wines known to humanity. Sadly, if I did this, I’d probably end up resembling one of those 30 stone shut-ins you see being cranelifted out of houses on the Jerry Springer Show.

As it is, I am overweight. Not terrifyingly so, but enough to make me feel uncomfortable when I look at myself naked in the mirror. I’ve been doing the dreaded Weight Watchers programme for the past few months, and whilst I’m still nowhere near the idea weight I’d like to be, I’ve managed to slowly-yet-surely lose a stone. Being a stubborn arse, my body does not like this new regime, resolutely clinging onto my excess bodyfat as though it fears a nuclear Winter is just around the corner. Something has to give. So, because I love red wine like the child I’ll never have  (to paraphrase Charlton Heston, the only way you’ll make me cut down on my intake is by prising a wine bottle out of my cold dead hands), I attempt to burn off my excess bodyweight through running.

I love running. I’ve been doing it for over a year now and whilst I’m not especially good at it  (I’ve only just managed to achieve the magical 5k), there’s something about it which allows all the clicks and cogs and self deprecating voices in my head to shut up for half an hour or so. When I’m running on that treadmill, I don’t think about anything else, apart from that moment. It feels as though my entire body becomes something else entirely – not a person with thoughts and fears and feelings, but just some lump of energy that needs to keep itself moving forward. Being on a treadmill, it’s not even like I have a goal to run towards either. I just clear my head. Focus on the moment. Become simple.

When you’re not very good at a lot of things, you soon learn how to play to your strengths. For example – I know I am good at cooking, eating, writing and (occasionally) running a website for my venerable employer. The list of things I am not good at however are as long as my arm. For example, I am woefully disorganised – so much so in fact that I have to write everything down, otherwise my sieve like brain will forget all about it until I wake up in a cold sweat at 1am. I am also terrible at Maths, atrocious at sewing, and let’s not mention my chronic lack of direction which once led to me walking into the Bridgewater Canal. Fully clothed.

The problem is that I dislike being crap at things. I have one of these terrible competitive natures which flares up whenever I discover yet another thing which I am incapable of mastering. This is also coupled with a rather childish form of petulence, which leads to me throwing my toys out of the pram when I inevitably discover that I’m not good at something right away. What do you mean this is a craft which takes years to develop? What do you mean I have to devote time and effort to master it? Don’t you know I’m busy? Can’t I just…you know…be good at it now?

But with running, I don’t feel that. I know I’m not particularly good at it (my current ‘technique’ appears to be propelling myself forward whilst on the treadmill whilst singing along to my ipod loudly – giving me the appearance of a sumo wrestler caught in a high wind). I can’t run especially fast, and earlier this year, I injured myself quite badly falling off a treadmill.  But in that moment, when my legs are moving beneath me, and I can’t think or feel anything past keeping myself moving for a few more minutes….there is something so perfect about it that it makes everything feel worthwhile. I’m currently reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, and there’s a paragraph when she describes how sometimes, when you run really fast, it feels like dancing.  And she’s right. It’s like your own private disco with your head transported to this magical place whilst your limbs flail wildly underneath you, and you couldn’t give a shit about what the person next to you thinks. And then there’s the other moments – like when you’re caught in the middle of it, when there is that moment of perfect silence in a normally terrifyingly noisy head. Because when that happens, it’s worth the pain. It’s worth the sweating. It’s worth everything.

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