Curried sprout risotto: I can already hear you all gasping and dry-heaving into your mailboxes. And yet, you mustn’t: the sprout may be a little ball of farts, but cooked well and with flavour, it makes for a lovely, soft, oniony dish. If your only sprout experience comes from Christmasses past where your mother put them on to boil a day or two after Easter, then I beg you to reconsider. Here, we’ve turned it into a risotto and served it with spicy jerk chicken from our newest cookbook – and that’s exactly what this should be used for: a base. Bit first, a couple of bits of admin as ever, then the curried sprout risotto recipe is all yours, I swear it.
Firstly, thank you to everyone for buying our book – it’s still doing so well and frankly, having an extension put on the house where I can smoke expensive cigars and type out my stories like Lynda La Plante has never seemed so possible. Please keep sharing your photos, reviews, telling your friends etc. For all those that haven’t yet got it, it’s available right here on this link!
Secondly, I apologise, but this is a long, long entry! It occurred to me the other night that we haven’t done a good ‘writing’ post in such a long time. So, here we go – but please, if you are hungry, scroll down to the recipe! If you honour me by reading it, I would absolutely love your feedback and comments. Don’t be shy! Here we go.
I’m about to tell you a story that I haven’t put to paper, for reasons each more inexplicable and bewildering than the last (I forgot), and will subsequently detail over four blog entries. It was a simpler time: Brexit was confirmed but we all thought it would disappear as elegantly as a magician’s trick on an ill-lit stage. There was nothing more infectious troubling the world than my laughter. Paul’s face wasn’t the haggard shell that haunts me now as I drift off to sleep. Our cats were young, with full bellies and bad attitudes and, in Sola’s case, ovaries: something she’s never quite forgiven us for taking away. It was 2017, we had returned from a mortifying trip to Copenhagen (where Paul shat out an egg with me dying of fremdscham at the side, and of course, the time I used chøc-a-bløc in a blog recount of our holiday, a writing standard I don’t think I’ve topped since) and were just settling down to ignore our ever increasing obesity when I received a text from a friend. It wasn’t the usual ‘you best go get checked love, it’s dripping from the end’ text either – it was, for the want of a less hyperbolic phrase – a text that changed our lives.
It’s here that we start the story of the time we went on This Time Next Year.
chapter one: “oh, so much cum”
Copenhagen, for all the laughs and jolliness the holiday recaps portrayed, was an awful holiday. It was the first time we’ve ever been away where we weren’t able to enjoy ourselves properly. We were simply too fat: we’d reached a critical mass where going on rides was a no-no. Eating in public was an exercise in embarrassment and self-consciousness. We couldn’t walk across the city – a city known for beautiful, lithe people, mind you – without worrying about what people thought and whether our ankles would make it. Older readers may remember a bit in the Vicar of Dibley where Geraldine, laden with three Christmas dinners, hops into a taxi which takes her about fifty yards down the road. We did pretty much that one evening, bellies so bloated that we got a taxi what would take a reasonable person three minutes to walk. I’ve always been fairly body confident but that was the absolute first time where my weight was making me miserable. Paul took a photo of me over dinner (presumably taking a census of the bread rolls that were left for later interrogation) and I look like two people cosplaying as a bearded horse. I’m literally widescreen. Paul was equally fat and equally as miserable. We rowed constantly, both unhappy with ourselves and taking it out on the other.
I mean, you’d struggle to run me up a flagpole, wouldn’t you?
Now, you must understand, us arguing on holiday is almost a tradition, though it’s usually over me opening my legs like the gates on a level crossing whenever a passing bearded Daddy-type walks past. But these were absolute humdingers, and for comparison, Paul once left for the airport to fly home from Hamburg after we had a ruckus in a backstreet gay bar. That’s not a euphemism. The only thing that stopped him actually flying home (after spending hundreds on a ticket) was the fact he’d forgotten to strop back to the hotel first and pick up his passport. So holiday arguing is de rigueur and normally, once we’ve cried into a few pastries over breakfast, we’re fine. Not this time. Things came to a head on the final night: me throwing stuff around the room, him shouting and bawling like his arse was on fire and his hands were in mittens. Realising that – for once, I wasn’t in the wrong, we had a good chat about what had happened, and confessed to each other how unhappy we were with how far we’d let ourselves go. Such a dramatic revelation was tempered a little by the fact we were sharing a giant Toblerone from the airport at the time – though perhaps it tells you of our greed that we bought a Toblerone from our departure airport as opposed to one from our returning airport.
But what could we do? We knew how to lose weight: we ran twochubbycubs at that point and dieting wasn’t some elusive mystery. Calories in vs calories out. But it’s all such a bore, isn’t it, if we’re honest. We’d had eight or so years at this point, attending Slimming World classes and developing piles on the plastic chairs and wishing for death as Sandra and Enid and Derek and Elsie and Sandra again all recounted their tales of how they couldn’t shit and birthday parties where they ‘had been really good and just sucked an ice-cube‘ all night. That’s not being good, that’s wasting an opportunity. The only thing that was sticking for us was cholesterol in our arteries, clad on the sides like seams of fridge-cold butter. We couldn’t bear the idea of another twelve months of standing in someone else’s verruca-prints and discussing Muller Lights. But without a class, what is there? The frightening prospect of taking responsibility for our own actions, and I think the fuck not. Never have, never will.
Then, as I say, we got a text. My good friend Sarah – someone I had worked with for a few years and made such an impression on that she knitted a fabulous little Bobomb for our house – had seen a calling card for a show on ITV called ‘This Time Next Year’ and sent it over. The premise was astoundingly simple: you turn up, pledge you are going to do something dramatic within a year, Davina McCall smiles and asks you lots of questions, then you disappear behind a door. This part is filmed but not aired at the time of recording. A year later, you come back, walk back out of the door and Davina has a scream and everyone claps and you’re briefly the star of ITV prime-time. Then, through the magic of editing, they splice the two films together and make a show of it so it looks as though you disappear behind a door and then come straight back out again a changed man. Or men, in our case. If you look on discussion forums discussing the first series you get numbskulls actually thinking the ‘change’ has happened there and then, as though Dumbledore was putting in a nightshift at Celador and just magicked away your fat. I mean, it’s surely not the most taxing of concepts, but to look at digitalspy back in 2017 you’d think the viewers were being tasked with cracking Gödel’s completeness theorem using only a broken abacus and six of their webbed fingers.
Realising that this was an opportunity we may never get again – and once I’d explained the gist of the show to Paul through discussion, then animation, then puppets and finally one of those ‘pick a number’ folding papers people used to make in school to choose their boyfriends – I emailed the production company. Sensing that one look at our humourless faces may send us straight to Deleted Items exile, I tried to make our application as funny as I could, describing myself a ‘spherical Geordie prone to shrieking’ and Paul as a ‘lighthouse in M&S slacks’. I also attached a couple of photos of the two of us, including that awful one I mentioned above. We must have caught their eye as we received a call a couple of hours later – first with a researcher who asked us lots of questions about whether we had been on TV before (me, no, but Paul yes, being wheeled in a pram through some flood water and throwing himself in front of the Chief Executive of the local council’s car during a pension strike) (not on the same day), whether we had been in trouble with the law and why we would be a good fit. A couple of Skype interviews followed that where we were asked what we wanted to pledge – we both said we wanted to lose four stone each.
Four stone! In all honesty, we could have both spared twelve stone a pop and still rarely have felt the cold. I genuinely can’t remember the exact weight, but I know I was over 26 stone and Paul 25 stone. The researchers went away and discussed with the production company and came back to make us an offer: lose ten stone each. Quite the upgrade but, faced with the very real possibility of us joining together like little globs of mercury when we made love, we agreed. Contracts were signed, confidentiality clauses agreed, and a date set for a week or two in the distance where we were to travel to London to film the ‘before’ portion of the show. We barely had time to get nervous, but you better believe we made the most of that week, wanting to be the heaviest we could possibly be when we got on the scales before the year of dieting commenced. We’re talking ordering two separate takeaways of an evening, grabbing a McDonalds every time we went for the paper, that sort of sluttish behaviour. And oh, it was glorious: a week dedicated to fattening ourselves up like Christmas turkeys. It wouldn’t have come as a surprise to me if I had walked in on Paul brushing his teeth with a Cadbury’s Flake. The night before filming we drove down to the cheery little Premier Inn in Borehamwood where we were all stationed and we stopped at every single services on the way. That’s ten, for the record, and we snacked at each one. By the time our little Micra pulled in at the hotel two of the tyre pressure warnings had come on. We were, quite literally, bursting at the seams: the fly on my elasticated jeans had come open for reasons, unusually, not relating to my traditional ‘welcome to the roads of Britain’ blowjobs I hand out to lorry drivers with especially consonant-heavy first names.
We slept fitfully: partly the worry of being filmed the next day, partly the angst of not knowing whether we would be able to squeeze in a Premier Inn breakfast before our taxi picked us up at 7.30am. You mustn’t worry: we did, and did so handsomely, knowing this would probably be the last ‘unhealthy’ meal for a very long time. Our taxi came and whisked us to Elstree, where we were given a fancy BBC badge (ITV were borrowing their studios) and made to wait in the security guard office until someone came and picked us up. They forgot about us. Paul didn’t seem to mind as he spent most of the time anxiously looking out of the window in the hope of seeing his teenage wank-fantasy Martin Fowler strolling up to set. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had left the show in 2007 – it was just nice to see Paul with some light behind his eyes. A runner eventually noticed that the security guard’s hut was full of fat people and came to whisk us to the green room in a blur of yahs and small-talk. Actually, that’s doing her a disservice, she was utterly lovely and put us at ease immediately. I remember seeing a Holby City ambulance and being amazed by how run-down everything looked behind the scenes, though I suppose the BBC mustn’t be seen to be splashing the cash on paint and decent carpets in these times of austerity.
Our green room was immediately behind the set and although we had arrived first, we were to be the fourth story filmed. This meant spending most of the day making small talk with people. Now, I’m excellent at small talk and can cheerfully chat away to most folks without a pause, but this was different. The people in the green room were absolutely terrific but they had all such important stories: someone was wanting to face the outdoors again after a fire had left her with significant burns. There was a couple who were trying one last bout of IVF before giving up on being parents after years of unsuccessful attempts. A young boy with artificial legs who wanted to play a proper game of football. Actual heroes, laughing and smiling away and all hiding their nerves with too many cups of the free (and bloody awful) coffee. We felt like shams: we were there because we’d eaten too many sandwiches over the course of our married life and neglected to move enough to counter it. But the camaraderie was great and though I’ve forgotten their names (and cut me some slack, it’s 50/50 on whether I remember to breathe out these days), I won’t forget how we all relaxed one another and cheered when each pairing disappeared off to make-up, wardrobe and then onto filming.
Our time came soon enough. Another brief chat with one of the production staff who ran through the questions we would be asked, where to stand on stage, how to definitely not say fuck or bugger and don’t do it as a joke because fuck me, that bugger is tired, that sort of thing. Then into wardrobe where they pressed the clothes we brought from home and stuck a sanitary towel in our underarms to stop us sweating. I’m a big guy, I asked for a maxi-flow. The clothes thing – they wanted us to bring our own clothes because they knew we’d look awful in them, so when the big reveal happened later and they had dressed us with decent, stylish clothes, it would look so much better. That’s why, if you watch the video, we are wearing dreadful polyester shirts picked straight from the two-pack pastel selection from ASDA. Then straight into make-up which I absolutely fucking loved, not least because the chap doing my make-up was a gorgeous, massive bear, camp as tits and utterly indiscreet. I got asked for my number somewhat surreptitiously (don’t worry, so did Paul, what a cad) and he described his previous visits to the North in glorious technicolour as he powdered my face: ‘oh but there was SO MUCH CUM‘. I had to ask him to calm down because I was laughing so much my foundation was falling off like Tango-coloured snow.
When they had finished making us look halfway presentable (which involved turning us a very, very orange shade which is then cancelled out by the studio lights) we were sent back into the corridor, ready to be installed behind the doors waiting for the big moment when they slid open and revealed our corpulent, crumpled selves to Davina and the audience. However, you know my husband: he can’t pass a toilet without some sort of crisis and as a result, piped up that he just needed a wee. No problem, he was dispatched to a nearby lavatory and I took up waiting outside. He was gone mere moments before we heard a crash and a sound not unlike a cow being branded by a farmhand with an essential tremor. I poked my head round to find him lying on the floor like a piss-soaked turtle – he’d rounded a corner a bit too sharpish and fell over at the urinal. With little time to spare and a face as red as a freshly-slapped arse, he was whisked to wardrobe where, with not enough time to change his clothes, they went over him with a hair-dryer and pushed him back out. We like to think it was water on the floor from a leaking urinal, but he stank like a city-centre back-alley. Davina wasn’t crying with emotion that day, it was pure ammonia fumes.
Clothes smartened, make-up touched up, mics fitted and refitted when they realised my belly was accidentally turning off the mic-pack when I sat down, we were taken to the back of the stage. I can’t remember anything that the runners were saying at that moment and was instead concentrating on making sure I was standing on the right side of Paul and holding his slightly scented hand to keep us both calm. My own bumhole was chewing out the seams of my pants, but no time for panic.
The lights went up, the doors slid open, and in we went.
More on that next time!
Goodness, that was a LOT of text, wasn’t it? But see, when I have something I like writing about, it flows like a poo half an hour following consumption of a newsagent egg sandwich. To the curried sprout risotto, then!
See, the curried sprout risotto isn’t as bad it sounds!
Well no, maybe it looks poo, but it’s tasty!
curried sprout risotto
Yield 4 servings
Normally with a risotto we throw everything in the pan and let it bubble away on its own with the lid clamped tightly over it. Not this time. Possibly due to my swirling contemplativeness, I found much merit in standing by the hob stirring the buggery out of it whilst looking sadly at the kitchen tiles. Either way will work though, I suppose it just depends on your ankles.
Take a look at the notes: I've added a few ideas to liven it up if you wanted to push this into a main all of its own.
- one large white onion
- 200g of baby sprouts
- one clove of garlic, minced
- pinch of salt and curry powder
- around 800ml of good quality or so help me God I'll do time vegetable stock
- 200g of risotto rice
- chop the onion finely
- with the sprouts, cut off the stems, remove a couple of the other layers and then chop finely into lovely little lunules
- gently sweat off the onion and chopped sprouts in a little oil until the onions have gone lightly golden
- add the curry powder, garlic and salt and cook for a moment or two more
- add the risotto rice and stir it through so all the grains are moistened (eww) and then add a ladle of stock at a time, cooking on medium, allowing the liquid to almost disappear before adding another ladleful
- keep stirring until the rice is cooked through
- serve with whatever you want
- if you wanted to add meat, cubed bacon lardons added with the garlic would be a good choice, but don't add extra salt
- we served ours with our jerk chicken from the book - rub and cook
- absolutely loving all the kind words from you about our amazing new cookbook - please leave a review or order yours here!
- our first slimming cookbook can be also ordered of course – full of 100+ slimming recipes, and bloody amazing, with over 5000 5* reviews – even if we do say so ourselves: click here to order
- our new diet planner is out and utterly brilliant – you can order it here – it'll keep you going through the next six months!
Enjoy! Want more risotto recipes? Sure!
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- full english breakfast risotto (2 syns)
- white risotto with thyme, prosciutto, pecorino and crumbled goats cheese (4 syns)