‘After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.’ – Oscar Wilde
After the excesses of the Silly Season, everyone seems to be jumping on the Dry January bandwagon. Personally, I will fight to the death to keep wine o’clock on the agenda. (‘I drink no more than a sponge.’ – Rabelais.) But it is cold! I love salads and eat one for lunch every day but oh, how I love comfort food when the temperature drops after dusk and I am hungry and snug in the warm sanctuary of my home.
Macaroni Cheese is an all-time favourite – everyone knows how to make this – with the addition of fresh, grated garlic to the cheese sauce and lots of chopped parsley thrown in before grilling (broiling) to crisp the top. Chunks of sautéed spicy chorizo are good too. Served with a mixed green salad or just-wilted spinach – yum.
Risottos hit the spot – a colourful one with beetroot will cheer any flagging spirit.
Beetroot Risotto – enough for two, or eat it all yourself …
Bunch of spring onions (green onions or scallions), sliced on the diagonal, using both white and green parts
500ml/1 pint stock – your choice of homemade vegetable, chicken or beef – hot and ready to use
250g/8oz cooked beetroot, coarsely grated
1 large clove garlic, grated (I’d use more …)
150g/6oz Arborio rice/risotto rice
100ml/4fl.oz red wine
heaped tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
large handful freshly chopped herbs – dill, parsley, basil, celery leaves – whichever you prefer. Herbs are wonderful chelating agents and should be consumed daily to help counter the pollution we encounter from cars driving past, planes flying over.
50g/2ozs soft goat’s cheese
Add half the beetroot to the heated stock and keep warm.
Heat some olive oil, 1-2 tablespoonsful, and gently cook the spring onions without browning.
Add the garlic to the onions and cook for a minute or so, without browning. (Burnt garlic is horrid and you will need to throw away the onions too and start again …)
Stir in the rice and cook for a minute, stirring to coat the rice – add more olive oil or butter if needed.
Pour in the wine, increase the heat until the wine sizzles.
Lower the heat and gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, waiting for the rice to absorb each ladleful before adding another.
When you have added almost all the stock, stir in the rest of the grated beetroot.
Add the remaining stock, cooking gently until the risotto is creamy and still moist, without being sloppy.
Taste for seasoning – I prefer to add sea salt when I eat it (I find most people add too much salt), but I do add fresh black pepper.
Stir in the Parmesan and half the herbs, divide between two bowls, top with the remaining herbs, pieces of goat’s cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Have extra Parmesan on the side.
Chicken lends itself to comfort food – try an organic/farmer’s chicken rather than the standard supermarket (tasteless?) alternative.
Chicken in Beer – serves 4
1 free-range chicken 1.5kg/3lbs approx.
olive oil/grapeseed oil and unsalted butter
50g/2ozs chopped shallots
200g/8ozs mushrooms – small – portabello, giroles, or button, thinly sliced
2+ tablespoons brandy (works with whisky too)
1/3 litre/just over ½ pint of beer, dark is best. Not lager!
teaspoon/5g brown sugar
200ml/1/3 pint double (thick) cream. (I send to use crème fraiche, soured cream or full-fat Greek yoghourt – less cloying on the palate.)
50g unsalted butter, sea salt and fresh black pepper
Fresh herbs to serve.
Oven temperature: 220C/Gas 7/425F/200C in a fan-assisted oven.
When the oven is at temperature, smear the bird with butter and chosen oil, then lay in a roasting dish on its side.
Roast for +/- 40 minutes – basting and turning the chicken regularly – to the other side, on its back and lastly breast up. Remove the bird to a plate to rest, breast down.
Discard the fat from the pan, add some butter, and sweat the shallots over a low heat. Do not burn.
Add the mushrooms. Stir in and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the brandy or whisky and use a wooden spoon to mix in the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan.
Reduce to less than half, add the beer and sugar. Reduce again to about half.
Add the cream and reduce again to a pleasing coating consistency.
Cut 50g butter into small pieces and whisk into the sauce to give it a nice sheen.
Season to taste.
Serve the chicken in the sauce.
Scatter liberally with fresh herbs.
N.B. You can also use chicken portions – adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Bird’s eye pasta is a good accompaniment as is a crunchy salad or al dente green beans with toasted, flaked almonds.
Tandoori Chicken – serves 4-6
Prepare 24 hours in advance – or six hours minimum.
1.5kg-2kg/3-4lbs chicken portions, skinned, and scored deeply.
5g/1 teaspoon fine sea salt
juice of one lemon
Rub the salt and lemon juice into the portions and set aside for 20 minutes.
450ml/ 15fl.oz plain yoghourt. (I prefer full-fat Greek yoghourt)
I small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, at least, grated.
small green chilli – if you are worried, just use half , chopped
15ml/1 tablespoon cardamom seeds, crushed
thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
thumb-sized length of cinnamon stick
5ml/1 teaspoon cumin seeds
ditto black peppercorns
1 whole nutmeg
30ml/2 tablespoons yellow food colouring, mixed with 15ml/1tablespoon red food colouring.
Put the cardomon seeds, cinnamon, cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorns and nutmeg into a coffee grinder and whiz till fine. |You could use powdered spices, but the seeds taste so much better.
Use 2 teaspoons/10ml for this marinade; store remainder in a small jar.
Mix the onion, garlic, chilli, 2 teaspoons spice mix into the yoghourt – or sling the lot into a processor/blender and blitz – and pour into a large bowl or roasting tin.
Paint the chicken pieces with the food colour.
Pour remainder of food colouring into the yoghourt.
Put the chicken pieces into the yoghourt marinade, cover and leave for 24 hours.
Set oven to the highest setting and bake the chicken for 25 minutes – charred pieces are obligatory!
Scatter with LOTS of fresh coriander – remember the chelation factor.
Serve with Basmati rice and spicy cucumber, (cut cucumber into wedges, sprinkle with salt, pepper, roasted cumin, cayenne and fresh lemon juice), shredded lettuce with sliced red onions and lemon wedges.
Whilst I would hope to follow with treacle tart, rhubarb fool, chocolate pie, pear and ginger pie, I wouldn’t, in truth, be able to eat any, more’s the shame. Instead, I’d opt for something light – a fruit salad of fresh lychees, mangoes and blueberries would be good.
‘Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.’ – Guy Fieri