No badger raising has been going on in recent weeks. Life has been a bit too much like hard work for anything other than the bare minimum to be achieved. Nobody asked for a full medical bio, so it suffices to say that after a run of ill health – that began with tonsillitis and, following a circuitous route, culminated in a slipped disc – if I was a Victorian horse, my owners would have been ringing round glue factories with some urgency.
It has been extremely irritating, meaning many little planned pleasures had to be missed, and has given me a greater appreciation of good health. A visit to my Dublin pal had to be postponed when I found myself seeking refuge on the floor of the staff room after my back failed me in dramatic fashion, and a trip to Cornwall had to be cancelled as well. Fortunately things are getting back to normal and we have been shoehorning some fun back into daily life.
Last weekend was the hotly-anticipated nuptials of my best pal from school. We have been through much together, in the last 35 years (a convent education, for instance; being 15) and it was a treat to be bridesmaid on her special day. Of course, it wouldn’t have been a big occasion for either of us if it hadn’t involved some small element of farce. Sitting in her conservatory, waiting for her dad to take us to the venue on the morning of the wedding, it was of no small surprise to us both when a particularly lively mouse ran across my lap and disappeared behind the sofa. The subsequent sofa shifting and nimble net navigation needed only Benny Hill music to make it more ridiculous. The mouse remained uncaught. I will probably never be able to visit again. I’m certainly not speaking to her cat.
After that – minor calamity out of the way – the day was gorgeous, with a beautiful bride, a handsome groom, a twinkly, fairy-light festooned ceremony, fabulous food, great music and lovely speeches. I made the pleasing discovery that dancing till midnight in high heels didn’t make my bad back appreciably worse and remembered quite how much I love a good wedding. I am honoured and excited to have another bridesmaiding gig on the horizon for another all time fave, in July, and she may rest assured that my skills have been honed to provide a truly high quality service.
Back to real life and, finally, after weeks and weeks of piecemeal grocery shops and substandard catering, I feel like I may finally be back at the helm, and ready to provide some appropriate sustenance for the troops. Today is cold and I feel we need something to stick to our ribs and create further insulation against the elements. I may be on the mend, but I’m all about one pot dinners at the best of times anyway and washing up creation remains a massive consideration at every meal time.
For dinner tonight, it’s a risotto. Perhaps because it’s so easy to eat, it’s a popular option in my house, even with the little one who simply can’t be faffed with mealtimes. When I’ve got the time, I’m perfectly happy to stand at the stove and stir as I listen to a podcast, but tonight is a busy one, so I’m making an oven baked version. This variety is perhaps a little less creamy than one prepared on the hob – you probably won’t win Masterchef with this one – but it is much less trouble and still makes for a tasty and substantial meal.
I tend to use bacon, chicken, broccoli and peas, but asparagus and broad beans work well too, and replacing the bacon and chicken with mushrooms and using appropriate stock and cheese would make it suitable for vegetarian diners.
There’s leftover roast chicken in my fridge, but, as if to prove the woeful shortcomings of my housekeeping, I’ve realised we have even run out of onions and frozen peas, so I’ve had to make it without either – the result is still pretty good and my little food critics have eaten it with relish. It’s not a looker, as evidenced below, but it’s a staple dish in this household – I recommend you give it a whirl.
3(ish) rashers of bacon, chopped small
1 onion, finely chopped
250g arborio rice
750 ml hot chicken stock
Handful of cooked chicken
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 handfuls of frozen peas.
Handful of grated Parmesan
Ground pepper (I don’t bother with salt as I find the stock, bacon and Parmesan are salty enough)
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC
- Using large casserole pot that is hob- and oven-safe, fry the bacon in a small amount of oil until crisp.
- Remove with a slotted spoon and fry the onion, adding a slosh more oil if necessary.
- When the onion is translucent, add in the rice and fry for one minute.
- Add back in the bacon.
- Pour in all the stock and bring to the boil, stirring.
- Pop the lot, with the lid on, into the oven and leave for 20 minutes.
- After 20 mins, remove from the oven and add in the chicken and vegetables; return to the oven for about 5 minutes.
- After 5 mins, the vegetables should look bright green and not be too hard, and the chicken should be piping hot. (If either of these remains elusive, return to the oven for 2 mins more.)
- Grate Parmesan cheese onto the top (generously, unless any of your diners are likely to complain it smells of sick) and replace the lid, leave for a couple of minutes.
- Dish up.
Cooked rice can be ridiculously prone to food poisoning, I believe, so if you have any over, be sure to cool it quickly and store in the fridge. It’ll be ok there for a couple of days, but make sure it’s really piping when you reheat it.