FOOD HONESTLY

The case for comfort cooking 

 In this crazy mile-a-minute world there’s something to be said for the therapeutic qualities of taking time out to cook, says Georgina Hayden

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By Georgina Hayden on

Autumn is easily my favourite time of year. Even with the colder, shorter days I can’t help but get excited by nature, its colours and textures, the cosier clothes and endless array of hot beverages on offer. I still haven’t removed the pumpkins from Halloween because I love their presence on my doorstep. It’s also when my favourite dress makes its annual reappearance; burnt oranges and reds, long sleeves, and paired with thick tights and boots, it’s the perfect autumn ensemble.

But let’s get down to business; the biggest factor for me, as always, is the food. Food determines my favourite season, but also my holiday destinations, how I socialise, even the ingredients that are on offer. The foods we are drawn to and want to eat are my favourite type of foods: sticky, slow cooked squash and pumpkins, wild mushrooms cooked until golden with a splash of cream on buttery toast, cabbage and kale a million ways, sloe berries steeped in gin for months on end, translucent quince jelly with oozy cheese, even a little fresh truffle. It’s taken a while to fully appreciate it but oh, a simple plate of pasta with shavings of truffle is such a decadent and delicious thing.  

When I wrote Stirring Slowly I think many presumed it was a book on slow cooking, which in parts it is, but that’s not the premise. It’s about something I am hugely passionate about and that is self care. That cooking is good for the soul, almost mindful, and that spending time in the kitchen can be a calming and restorative process.

There is a chapter on breakfast and why we should take the time to eat properly in the morning, one on quick speedy dishes which are perfect when you’re tired after work and are good for you on the inside, but then there are also slower chapters, full of dishes that take a while but are therapeutic and calming to make. It is these dishes that make me think of autumn and winter, that I gravitate towards when the nights are colder and I’m reaching for my slippers.

I am hugely passionate about self care. That cooking is good for the soul, almost mindful, and that spending time in the kitchen can be a calming and restorative process

Now is where slow cooking comes into its own – what is better than preparing a large joint of your favourite meat, leaving it in the oven for hours on end to tick away whilst you catch up with friends? Go for a crisp autumn walk, open a bottle of red, curl up by a fire if you can.

And often it’s the cheaper, less desirable cuts that fare better for this style of cooking – shoulders of lamb, beef shin, pork belly. Cheaper than their quick cook counterparts and, I find, with tonnes more flavour.

One of my go-to dishes is ham hock with beans and fennel, something that not only takes hours ticking away in the oven or on the hob, but needs soaking overnight first too. Yes you need time, but minimal effort is involved. It’s not about lavish cooking and showing off, it’s about gentleness, and with that comes great flavour.

It’s these few months between Summer and the beginning of the new year that I cherish, when life is slower and we are less preoccupied with that annual "new year, new you" health kick (and I haven’t started worrying if my denim shorts will fit me again).

Of course, during the week dinner can sometimes be a battle, often I resort to tried and tested classics for ease. For example I know I’ll always have ingredients for nasi goreng in the house and I can have it on the table in half an hour. But when there is time I love to step back and give it a bit more thought.

Last weekend we made bread – garlic and rosemary focaccia to be precise. Why? For no reason, there was no agenda or event, we made it solely because it was relaxing and calming. We had a day at home, there was no rushing, no running around. From just a handful of store cupboard ingredients, a little elbow grease and a lot of waiting, something hugely satisfying and delicious was created.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? You have to be a bit more patient in autumn and winter, try or think a bit harder, prepare a bit more. Clothes need to work in layers, social events take a bit more coaxing, food takes a little longer, but when that pork shoulder comes out of the oven with insane crackling, or that apple crumble is resting on the side with it’s sticky caramelised edges and a golden top you remember why; that bit more effort equals an end result that is so much more rewarding.

 

Cinnamon-braised lamb shanks 

Slow-cooked and tender, these shanks are rich, warming and fragrant. They are perfect for entertaining, as they need little attention, or just if you fancy a change to your Sunday roast. Also cinnamon is believed to be full of health benefits, including cholesterol-reducing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Serves 4

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • A 4cm piece of ginger
  • 100g golden raisins
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 red chillies
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 200ml natural yoghurt
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 lamb shanks
  • 8 shallots
  • Groundnut or vegetable oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 500ml chicken stock
  1. Peel and roughly chop the garlic and ginger and blitz in a food processor with the raisins, ground cinnamon, chillies and ground coriander. Add the yoghurt, and a good pinch of salt and pepper, and pulse until just mixed. Make incisions in the lamb shanks and place in a bowl. Rub the marinade into the meat, then cover and marinate for a few hours, or even for a day if possible. 
  2. When you are ready to cook the meat, peel and finely slice the shallots. Pour a drizzle of groundnut or vegetable oil into a deep, heavy-based casserole – one large enough to hold all the shanks – and fry the cinnamon stick, star anise and bay leaf for a minute. Add the shallots, then turn the heat right down and sauté for 10 minutes, until soft and sticky. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and leave to one side.
  3. Drizzle a little more oil into the casserole and turn up the heat. Brown the lamb shanks in batches, reserving any marinade left in the bowl. When the meat is brown on all sides, return it all to the pan with the softened shallots and any reserved marinade. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid, then cook over a low heat for 3 hours, turning the shanks regularly and adding more stock if it gets too dry. The lamb should be tender and falling off the bone. Remove the shanks from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm. Turn up the heat and let the sauce bubble away for around 10 minutes, until thickened and rich.
  4. Return the lamb shanks to the pot and serve. Perfect with mashed potato or creamed cauliflower and greens, or even steaming basmati rice.

KHICHDI

I adore this recipe. It’s a traditional Indian dish which is nourishing both to make and eat – it’s filled with goodness and follows a lot of the Ayurvedic principles. I think it is perfect as a side for a Indian meal or just on its own, in a bowl, with a spoon. Make a batch on a Sunday and it’ll keep you going for a few days.

Serves 6

  • 3 tablespoons ghee 
  • ½ tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 250g basmati rice (I like to use white and brown)
  • 150g split mung beans
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 onions
  • 1 green chilli
  • 15 curry leaves
  • A 2cm piece of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 200g kale or spinach
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Wash the mung beans in a sieve under running water. Peel and finely slice the garlic, and peel and finely chop the onions. Halve, deseed and finely slice the chilli. Peel the ginger and keep to one side.
  2. Heat a little of the ghee in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the cumin seeds. Once they start to turn golden and smell wonderful, add the rice and mung beans to the pan. Season well with salt and pepper and add 1.75 litres of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid. Leave to cook on a low heat for 40 minutes, adding more water if it gets a little dry. 
  3. While the rice and mung beans are cooking, you can temper the rest of the spices. To do this, heat the rest of the ghee in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the garlic. Fry for a minute and once the garlic has turned lightly golden, add the onion, chilli and curry leaves, and finely grate in the ginger. Turn the heat down a little and sauté for 5 – 10 minutes, until the onions have softened but not coloured. Turn the heat up a little and add the mustard seeds, turmeric and cinnamon stick. Fry for 2 more minutes.
  4. Wash the greens thoroughly and remove any tough stalks, then roughly chop and add to the pan along with the sautéed spiced onions and a splash of water, if needed. You want a creamy texture, so add up to 200ml of water if it feels too thick. Cook for a further 15-20 minutes, then season to taste. Perfect with warm chapatis and a feast of other Indian dishes.

Extracted from Stirring Slowly by Georgina Hayden, published by Square Peg on 9 June in hardback at £20.

 

@georgiefood

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