Recipe – Chipotle Chocolate Chilli

This always feels like a knockout dish, yet still delivers the comfort and ease you associate with a good bowl of chilli. It’s easy but so very delicious. Don’t take my word for it – try it yourself! This is the only chilli recipe I make now, and it feels like one of my recipes.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons of olive oil

500g beef mince

500g good beef steak, in chunks

1 large red onion, diced

1 large white onion, diced

2 sticks celery, diced

1 yellow pepper, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1.5 tablespoons of Chipotle chilli flakes

1 tablespoon of chilli flakes

1 teaspoon of mild chilli powder

2 teaspoons of dried oregano

3 tablespoons caster sugar

A pea sized blob of black treacle

500ml of good beef stock

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

1 tin kidney beans, drained

I tin butter beans, drained

2 bay leaves

85g of good dark chocolate (the best you can buy, minimum of 85% cocoa solids)

Teaspoon of sea salt (Plus extra to season at the end of cooking)

Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat your oven to 140°c (120° if fan assisted). Move shelves etc now to accommodate your large dish.

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a large casserole dish. Once got, add the chunked beef steak in batches to brown and seal. Don’t be tempted to do this on one go; the meat will broil rather than getting a gorgeous deep crust. Make sure the pieces have plenty of room in the pan. Set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to your hot casserole, and add the mince to brown too. Set aside.

Add the remaining olive oil and add the onions, celery and peppers, stirring often. You don’t want these to catch, but soften slightly, usually around three minutes.

Add the Chipotle chilli flakes, chilli flakes, chilli powder and oregano to the pot, and stir through. Allow to cook for a few minutes.

Add the meats back to the pan and stir to coat with the spice and vegetables. Then pour on the beef stock, tinned tomatoes and add the sugar, black treacle, beans and two bay leaves. Season with a teaspoon of sea salt and s good twist of black pepper, stir through and allow to come to the boil.

Once at a gentle boil, pop the casserole lid on and put in the oven, for around three hours – you want it to be thick and umptious, with the steak chunks tender and melting. (If the steak seems tough, add another thirty minutes in the oven).

Take out of the oven, and carefully remove the bay leaves. Add the 85g of chocolate, block by block, whilst stirring all the while. Leave to cool slightly if serving immediately. Add seasoning to taste.

I like to serve mine the day after I’ve made it, as I find it always tastes so much better. Serve with boiled rice, soured cream and chopped chives – also it’s delicious on a jacket potato with a lightly dressed salad.

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With time comes perspective

This week, life has thrown me a curveball. A situation I thought was resolved enough to close down the file and put away in a box, emerged like a phoenix from the ashes with a hair whip and a tailspin. I won’t go into details, because it’s sadly sensitive and not my story to tell. But indirectly I’m involved, or affected (to be honest, I’m mostly unaffected in every sense but still I have a tenuous link).

Such as these unexpected plot twists do, it’s opened up a lot of dialogue, and thoughts, and has involved a fairly big decision which is such a small plot in the overall arc of the story, really, but will hopefully bring about a happy ending for its main character (me, it’s all about me).

I’ve always been a believer in following intuition, and your gut, and it’s true that when I’ve ignored that feeling in the past I’ve usually ended up making a mistake. But what happens when the answer, and the right thing to do isn’t glaringly obvious? (I’m sure hindsight will show me that it should have been glaringly obvious, but you know). When neither option is a particularly difficult one, even though its affects could be far reaching? When on paper this should be a heartbreaking situation but you feel as indifferent as when your neighbour complains of a particularly persistent weed in their garden?

I mean, I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers to my own life quiz, let along yours. I guess it’s reminded me that while life events can be a contrast of black and white, sometimes it’s muddling through the various shades of grey that make it all complicated. I talked it out, often and to others for their perspective. Voiced all worries I had, on both sides of the fence. And was as open and honest as I could be, even when my words at times felt as cold as the brittle ice on a frozen lake. They weren’t offered chilled, or with any intent of malice, but the truth of a situation is sometimes less than warm and cozy.

So, I eventually made my decision and am at peace with it; family and friends are both supportive and relieved and it’s another tick against a chapter completed. My family – both my own gorgeously bonkers one created from the love of my husband and I; and the one I was lucky enough to be born into – are still united, and happy. We are still a team, even when some of us aren’t really sure of the technicalities of the game. We are learning as we go, some of us, and building the team bond as adults making a choice rather than naturally growing up together. Either way, it’s precious and I am thankful for it.

A few days later, I’ve made another slow burn of a revelation, which again feels more underwhelming than it perhaps should. In all of this, in all of my discussions, I haven’t thought of the effect on my sobriety once. I haven’t felt like I’ve had to carefully weigh up the impact of each thing to ensure that my hard work is protected. I haven’t talked at length about how this affects my decision to abstain from alcohol, or the spiral it would have no doubt sent me in a few years ago. Because I haven’t thought about it once – I’ve thought of the impact on me, my family and others; I’ve considered ramifications for all involved; I’ve explored how each decision might make me feel when I look back on it in ten years. But not once about my sobriety.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. Unexpected, yes, but not necessarily a negative realisation. A good friend (whose counsel I have always sought out and welcomed and am once again thankful for) said once that this new evolution is just another stage. And I think that’s true. While it might not be celebrated by others I’m choosing to see this as another blessing of sorts. This is all me, just me, and drinking/abstaining is no longer the only thing I can see. My world has opened so much that the tiny shrunken world when I drank seems almost unfathomable. That’s not to say I don’t continue to try to be better, to do better. I would never chance a situation to test my sobriety, nor would I ever stop doing the work that I feel best keeps me on this past. Just that maybe, my obsessional thinking has evaporated rather than switching from drinking to sobriety. Once I was defined by my alcoholism and behaviour in active addiction. Then I defined myself by my sobriety. From alcoholic, to alcoholic in recovery, to Cat. Now, I guess, I’m just defining myself as me.

Recipe – double chocolate muffins


These are easy, and easily the best muffins I’ve ever made. This uses the measurements in cups, rather than grams, which I found very easy to follow (but I appreciate is not the norm for my fellow Brits).  The only downside is this recipe only makes 12 – they don’t last long! I suppose I should add that these would freeze wonderfully, but I have never needed to… nuts would be a good addition to these in place of 100g of chocolate chips – I’d recommend macadamia nuts with white chocolate chips, and walnuts with milk chocolate chips. Experiment and enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of plain flour
  • 1/3 cup of light brown moscavado sugar (packed)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar (caster or Demerara)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2.5 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2/3 of a cup of full fat milk
  • 1/2 cup of melted, cooled butter
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 100g milk chocolate chips
  • 100g white chcolate chips

Method

  • Preheat oven to 200°C (180°C if fan)
  • In a large bowl, mix together the sugars, flour, baking powder and salt
  • In a jug, mix together the eggs, milk, cooked butter and vanilla
  • Make a well in the dry mixture, and pour your wet mixture in. Stir until just combined
  • Add the chocolate chips, and stir until evenly coated
  • Spoon batter into prepared muffin case/tins
  • Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean
  • Let muffins cool in the tin, on a wire rack for five minutes, then remove from tin to cool on the rack further. (I think this is what helps the texture be so good)
  • Apply to face!

Love letter to wine 

I never thought we’d be at the point where I’d be writing a letter to you, over two years after our love affair ended. Time has given me a new perspective, I guess, and shown me how strong I can be without you. I thought I needed you by my side always; it turns out I don’t.

In the beginning, our love was pure, fun. You offered me a way to come out of my shell, showed me joy that I thought I was lacking. We had some good times, GREAT times, even. We could hang out with friends together and smugly enjoy the unique relationship we had. We’d stay up all night, laughing and giggling while surrounded by good company. Memories of these nights meant I stayed with you far longer than I should have done. I hoped that we could go back to those days, before it all went toxic and sour. I know now I can never go back.

Because eventually, your hold on me was so strong that my friends were just a distraction from the relationship of you and I. You made sure I was alone. My reliance on you grew, and my obsession with you was all consuming. While initially you had soothed my insecurities, and drowned my fears, soon you allowed them to grow and engulf me. My solution became my biggest problem, and yet I had no idea how to fix it; so I drank it away, and choked back the poison. The fun  had ended long ago. I was trapped in an endless cycle of needing you, wanting you, feverishly devouring every bit of you, only to hate you and hate myself. I feared myself, when I was with you. I feared you, and your grip of control on me.

I tried to break up with you, many times, before it eventually stuck. Each time you whispered in my ear reasons I should stick it out. That I needed you. That no one really understood the good thing we had going. That my life would be awful without you as a crutch. That it really wasn’t as bad as I thought, and one more time for old times sake wouldn’t hurt. At one time, you were my sole confidant, my only friend. You skewed my perspective so much that I didn’t see how fucked up that was. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, you were my only priority and consumed my daily thoughts. I got through the days on autopilot until we could be together again, until I could pour my first glass and feel your warmth envelope me.

I gained unexplained bruises because of you; my face and body changed because of the damage you were doing. More than once I was so physically ill I thought I could die. I lied and stole, cheated and spewed hateful words, that no amount of pretending it didn’t happen would ever take back. My demeanour changed, I grew afraid of everything. The only light at the end of the tunnel was you, despite the fact that you were making my world so small and dark. The Fear you instilled in me still visits sometimes in dreams, and each time I wake, shaking and confused. Terrified. And still, I stayed. Because you were right; I couldn’t handle life without you.

Except I could; I am. And though it took a while to see, I’ve blossomed and grown in leaps now I’ve cut you out of my life. No longer do I hide from the world; I’m like a new flower, stretching to greet the sun. This hasn’t been an easy road, to get here. But the road you wanted me on would have was me to absolute ruin. Of that, I am certain. It was hideous enough, our twisted entanglement, and would only have got worse.

I know I’ve seen a darkness to you that many won’t – they will be able to savour you, and enjoy you for the casual release you are. I realise not all your relationships will be like ours was. But I know also that your grasp will tether others to you, and you will set out to destroy them too. I can see the signs in others, and I hold my breath – for a minute, I am back there myself. I know too well though that they need to see it for what it is themselves; I cannot help with a problem they don’t see. I hope they find the strength to leave you behind too. I hope one day, people can see how I’ve moved on and realise happiness is possible, without you tainting it. That living is so much more than chasing the next buzz, the next drink.

I’m even grateful to you, in a funny way. Despite the misery you brought, you have also blessed my life with wonderful people. They are in recovery from you too, and had we not got to the point we did, I would never have met them. I would never have tried to become a better person. I would not now be so grateful for my life today, or the memories I make and remember. I wouldn’t be present. I wouldn’t have tried to make amends, or admit my wrongs. Gf

So, here we are. I did the typical things one does after a difficult break up – tears were shed, I was angry at the world, I grieved and yearned for you. I even got the post break up haircut. And now, I see I never really needed you. You certainly did not enrich my life. And I don’t now. As fun as it was occasionally, I can proudly say I’m glad i feel I never need you again. Though you still enrich my kitchen, you will never consume my heart.

It’s not you, it’s me. Goodbye.

Recipe – teriyaki salmon and sesame pak choi

This is quick, easy and delicious. I can’t believe I only made it for the first time yesterday, it’s now a form favourite and go to staple. If you can’t get (or don’t fancy) pal choi, cabbage or spring greens would work the same way. I serve these with rice, but the salmon is gorgeous with salad and new potatoes too. 

For the salmon:

Thinly slice a thumb sized piece of peeled finger, and four garlic cloves. In a bowl, add two heaped tablespoons of runny honey, three generous table spoons of soy, and one of rice wine. Add the garlic and ginger and stir to create a sticky marinade. Take four salmon fillets, and add to the bowl, coating in the marinade as well as sea salt and pepper. Store in the fridge for at least half an hour, but no more than two hours.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large pan. Place the salmon skin sides down and leave for two minutes. Add the rest of the marinade (it will bubble!) and cook for two more minutes. Baste the salmon, then turn and cook until the salmon is cooked through.

Meanwhile, cut the end off the pak choi and separate into leaves. Mince four cloves of garlic, and gentle fry in a little oil. Add the pak choi and stir through. After a minute or  so, add 75ml of vegetable stock and cover with a lid. Cook for a few more minutes – you want it to be softened, but still have some bite. Once cooked, toss in a tablespoon of sesame oil, and add sesame seeds.

Angels

I believe in them. Not the winged creatures that my more religious family members might envision, necessarily. But I believe that sometimes, people are brought into your life at such a time, with such a message or blessing that they surely can’t be anything but. Sometimes the way it happens is so coincidental, or with such unbelievably slim chances that it’s staggering. You were meant to meet them. They were sent to guide you on your path, or shed light. Offer hope. Angels exist, and are out there.

I’m lucky enough to have encountered this a handful of times, and each time they have offered blessings, and huge help. Each time there have been signs that our meeting is bigger than the two of us, strange similarities or links that cannot be ignored. Some have passed by fleetingly, never to be seen again but often felt in my heart and remembered. Others, stay, and you know that your life will never be without them in it. My friend Rachel is one of these, I truly believe.

This week my husband met an angel of his own. The odds of encountering this lady were minuscule; and yet there she was. With everything he needed at a time where he was low and despairing – kindness, expertise and a huge ignition of confidence. She has offered to help further, and I cannot stress what a blessing she has brought. In four hours, she brought a 180° shift to our circumstance. I’m not sure what our immediate future holds, but I know she will be there to guide us through it, as sure as I know the sun will kiss the horizon tomorrow morning.

I doubt she’s aware of her importance, or my angelic belief of her; in my experience, they never do. I’ve wondered if I’ve been an angel to anyone at a time in their life, when they’ve needed hope. I hope so, or that I can one day. 

Be kind to each other, be generous with your love, skills and experience and offer them as a gift to others whenever you are able. Your small contribution could be part of something so much bigger than you imagine; it could restore someone’s faith or love of life. You could offer something life changing , without even knowing it. I believe there’s an angel in all of us. And I will always believe they are among us, if we are open and try to keep a good heart.

Changes

This past week or so has been a doozy. I won’t go into details, but it started with travelling home to visit my sick grandma in hospital to probably say goodbye, to a series of bombshells dropped along the way. None fatal, but definitely life changing; I’m not wounded but very much affected. Every time I regain my balance, another tremor hits.

I know I’m not alone in this, we all face times where we wonder how we’ll get through them, or how much more body blows can the Big Guy deal at once (as I discovered – you can always take one more hit than you think possible) . But cope we do, and muddle through somehow. 

So there’s been lots going on, lots of talking and discussing and life altering decisions made. I tweeted earlier that if I’d had this week a year ago, I’d be drinking on it – and I’ve no doubt I would. I’m not sure I would have felt emotionally ready for some of what’s going on. In fact, if you’d have told me all this would happen six months ago I would probably wondered if it would have made me or broken me entirely. As it turns out, my emotional china has broken, but kissed back together with molten metal; I am forever changed and scarred but stronger for it. How grateful I am to be present and able to process, to trust my instinct more. For the gift of acceptance.

Instead, I feel calm. At peace with the situations – they is what they are, what will be, will be. If I can affect something I can act, otherwise it’s out of my control. It’s been a revelation to know I can just hand it over, and trust that I’ve actually been bestowed a gift, an opportunity, I just need to refocus a little to see it. This path is mine, ours, and it’s got rocky and treacherous before but I’m still here hiking, even if my breath is jagged.

And I’m resolved. I’m not sure where it’s come from, but a determination of steel has become my armour that I gather around myself and my family. I can’t describe it anymore than this – I know it will be ok. I know this is the right path, somehow. I know that we will be fine, and this is leading somewhere better. I don’t have 100% faith in many things, but I absolutely believe in my husband and I. Like the strong women in my family, we get shit done. And as long as we have all each other, and our health, we will figure everything else out. What I have under this roof is a blessing – a house full of love. And love always wins.