By Phillippa Spence
Before you think this is another “detox, new year, new me, full on resolutions and let’s get the beach body going now” kind of blog, it’s not! We’re led to believe that January can’t be fun, but you can make the most of cosy nights in and hopefully some crisp cold days.
January is the perfect time to do lots of batch cooking – making all your favourite soups, stews, pies and ragùs that you can freeze for whenever you fancy. If you have a free Saturday or weekday evening, get some containers together then go through your cupboards and pop to the shops. Sweep out the fridge and fruit bowls. Don’t go overboard, just work with what you have. Kerryann Dunlop from Jamie’s Food Tube Channel has loads of great recipes for making simple family recipes that will see you through January and beyond!
In winter I always crave hearty meaty broths, packed with sweet and peppery vegetables and a wodge of noodles or dumplings for good measure to keep me ticking over. A flavoursome stock is the most important element for any broth, and time is the key. If you’re making a meaty stock, roasting the bones is really important because they start to caramelise and take on such a stronger depth of flavour as they colour and the bone marrow softens. Just pop to the butcher and ask for beef, lamb or oxtail bones. Alternatively you can bag up and freeze bones from roast dinners and collect them until you have a kilo or so to work with.
Once you’ve roasted the bones, place them in your biggest pan and cover with a few litres of cold water. Add some roughly chopped onion or shallots, carrots, celery and peppercorns – these add a layer of sweetness and a wholesome base flavour. From there you can adjust the recipe to how you want the stock to take shape, using bay leaves, parsley stalks and spices such as star anise; or chilli and lemongrass for a bit of Asian excellence. Bring it to the boil, reduce to a simmer and leave to tick over for hours, skimming any froth and fat from the surface. The more you reduce it, the stronger the flavour, so keep tasting it and, once you’re happy, strain it through a sieve. You could make the broth straight away or save it for when you need it. One of my favourite recipes is Jamie’s traditional Scotch broth. For this recipe, Jamie roasts the lamb shoulder and uses the bones as well as the meat to make it extra comforting and a real treat.
A comforting Asian-style broth is a wonderful thing too…. just warm your delicious stock and pop in prawns or thinly sliced beef fillet (you only need a little bit), lots of crunchy veggies and noodles, then adjust the seasoning with fish sauce and soy sauce, a twist of lime and sprinkle of fresh red chilli and fresh coriander.
Or take it a slightly Italian way – oxtail or beef stock is a great carrier for poaching mini homemade pork and beef meatballs with sliced up leafy greens, a little chopped tomato and a couple of handfuls of crushed up dried pasta.
So that’s lunch and dinner sorted for the next few weeks, but we can’t forget about a good hearty breakfast. It’s not about going over the top every day – just mix things up a bit. Add a small handful of frozen berries or mashed up banana to the porridge halfway through cooking; try a bit more protein with a little good quality ham, boiled egg and watercress as an open sandwich; and avocadoes and roasted tomatoes are quick and healthier filler-uppers with poached eggs and toast.
Homemade Bircher muesli is a great alternative to porridge and a good one for kids too. To make enough for six the night before, just add two good handfuls of porridge oats to a medium-sized mixing bowl, coarsely grate over one apple and one pear, add a handful of mixed dried fruit and nuts, stir in 250ml natural yoghurt and add a swig of apple or orange juice. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight. When you’re ready to eat, stir in a splash of milk and serve with a squeeze of honey, some chopped banana and handful of berries.
Whatever you do this January just enjoy it and get in to some happy food habits that will see you through to the summer. Happy New Year!