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Embracing comfort food

It’s time to get back to the roots of seasonal eating and find the joy in cooking something new, says our resident food writer Ros Ayres.

Parsnip pilau web

Pilau rice with parsnip.

January can feel like a slow month. So instead of setting ourselves gruelling targets to give up everything we enjoy, we should look for moderation, variety and comfort foods. Checking out for what is seasonal can help us shake up our list of go-to meals, try out new ingredients and expand our repertoire.

For this month, the best of the season includes chard, parsnips, celeriac, leeks and Brussel sprouts (they're not just for Christmas!). Oranges, pears, pomegranates and Bramley apples are all in season too.

Cooking is as much about the aromas, textures and colour on your plate as it is about the flavour. Small changes can make a big difference to what you eat and how it makes you feel. For example, add a spoonful of paprika to pep up a winter vegetable soup, make a one-pot Indian pilau with parsnips or give your porridge extra zing by adding freshly grated ginger.

To help get you started, here’s a few recipe suggestions to inspire you. Give yourself a gentle introduction into 2022 and try just one new thing. Whether that’s warming up a winter’s afternoon with a celeriac soup, sauteed Brussel sprouts with spaghetti or baked apples.

A comforting celeriac soup

Celeriac may not be the most vibrant, attention-grabbing vegetable when you're out on your weekly shop, but it's worth a look-in. It tastes similar to celery and works really well in soups, roasted or mashed, or with apple, bacon and mustard.

Soups are the ultimate winter warmer. Making them from scratch is a doddle, it's budget friendly and you can freeze leftovers for quick lunches in future.

To make a celeriac soup, saute a chopped onion with 25g of chopped bacon in one tablespoon of butter in a large saucepan. Cook on a low heat for 10 minutes until golden brown, add one finely chopped garlic clove and cook for a further minute.

Add one medium celeriac and potato, both peeled and chopped into 1cm chunks, and one litre of stock and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft, and serve with a topping of grated parmesan and chopped thyme.

Sprouts and spaghetti web

Sprouds and spaghetti.

Sprouts ‘n’ spaghetti

Brussels sprouts can be like Marmite for some people. For anyone on the fence, I’d suggest trying out the below.

Sprouts are far more versatile than you might think, so it's a shame they're often restricted to Christmas. They work well with lemon, bacon, garlic and nuts. They can be stir fried or sauteed, and they're delicious roasted.

For a quick midweek meal for two, try a simple and delicious dish of sauteed sprouts, capers, lemon and garlic with spaghetti.

Add 200g shredded sprouts and half a diced red pepper into a large pan with one tablespoon of oil. Cook for five minutes on a low heat until they’ve started to soften. Add half a finely chopped chilli, one finely chopped garlic clove, one tablespoon of capers and 100ml of dry white wine. Cook until the wine has reduced slightly.

Add 160g cooked spaghetti to the pan with the juice and zest of one lemon and mix everything together. Season and serve with a generous scattering of parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and a twist of black pepper to taste.

Bramley apples ready for baking
Susie's Scraps

Baked Bramley apples

I don’t have a sweet tooth so I don’t usually go for a dessert. But there’s something about winter which means I often find myself wanting a slab of gingery parkin (I’d recommend Forge Dam cafe for this) or a bowl of apple crumble with a generous dollop of custard.

I like to fool myself into thinking that fruit-based desserts are a healthier option. Baked apples are certainly a simple option. It’s a dish which takes me back to my childhood. I can smell the aroma of cinnamon and picture my mum in the kitchen, stuffing apples with dates, honey, raisins and walnuts.

You can bake apples in the oven or the microwave. Just remember to score the middle with a knife so the steam can escape. I’ve learnt that tip the hard way – cleaning up exploded apples is a mess you want to avoid.

Preheat the oven to 180°C, remove the core from two Bramley apples (you can use other apple varieties) and score a line around the middle of each apple with a knife. Place the apples in an ovenproof dish.

Mix six chopped dates, 50g raisins, a knob of butter, one tablespoon of chopped walnuts, one tablespoon of orange juice, the zest of one lemon and one teaspoon cinnamon.

Stuff this filling into the middle of each apple, and drizzle over a tablespoon of honey. If you have leftover mincemeat from Christmas, you can use that for your stuffing.

Cover the apples loosely with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes until they are soft but not collapsing. Serve with a drizzle of honey and a generous spoonful of Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream.

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