February is, by far, the darkest month. It’s cold, wet and even a little bit snowy, and colds and flu are flying round. Deadlines start to loom, and sunshine and holidays seem forever away.
So, forget the bikini diet. Clear away all those old tissues, curl up in a cosy blanket, queue up something on Netflix, and eat something warm and comforting.
Corned beef pie
This is super easy to make – you don’t even need a pie dish, just a normal dinner plate. And if, like me, you can’t make shortcrust pastry without having an almighty tantrum because it keeps breaking, I won’t judge you for using the ready-rolled stuff from the supermarket.
Tinned corned beef may be something you’re more likely to find in your gran’s kitchen cupboard than your own, and sure, it lurks among spam and sardines in the tinned food aisle, but don’t dismiss it as ration food; it makes .
Vegetarians! I haven’t forgotten you! Instead of corned beef, combine the potato with as much strong cheese as you can get in there.
I’ve never found corned beef pie in shops outside the north east of England, but ha’way man, ya dinnit knar what ya missin’ out on, pet!
(Translation: come on, you don’t know what you’re missing out on…pet.)
• A 340g tin of corned beef
• A packet of shortcrust pastry, or if you’re talented, make your own
• About four large potatoes
• A knob of butter
• A tablespoon of mustard
• Chives, dried or fresh
• An egg, beaten
1) Peel your potatoes, chop them into cubes, boil them and mash them with butter. As with , if you want to cheat with instant mash, I’ll turn a blind eye. But go on, treat yourself, do the real thing.
2) Cut up the corned beef into cubes, too. If there’s a lot of white fat around the corners, take it off.
3) Once your potatoes are done, mash the corned beef into them. Don’t let it become a paste, leave it fairly rough.
4) Add the mustard and chives, and stir them in. I recommend strong English or wholegrain mustard – or even a little of both – and fresh chives, but any mustard you have and dried chives will be just fine. Throw in a little bit of salt and a good pinch of black pepper, too.
5) Grease up a dinner plate with butter. The easiest way to do this is to tear off a bit of the butter’s wrapping, smudge some on there, then smear a light layer all over the plate. (There’s no nice way of describing that. Sorry.)
6) Take your rolled-out pastry and line the plate with it, then trim the excess off the edges with a knife.
7) Fill up the pastry-lined plate, up to an inch or so away from the edge, with the corned beef and potato mix.
8) As with the base, cover the whole thing with another layer of pastry and trim the edges. Crimp down the edges with your thumb or a fork, and cut a few holes in the top to let any steam out.
9) Brush the top with the beaten egg, and put into a pre-heated medium oven for about 35-40 minutes, or until it’s golden brown on top and the edges are coming away from the plate.
This pie’s good hot or cold – wrap any leftovers in foil or greaseproof paper and put it in the fridge, then take a slice with some salad for lunch.
While it’s still hot, though, for a good hearty warming meal, try with roast potatoes, and…
Broccoli and cauliflower cheese
We’re all old enough now to eat our vegetables without complaining… right? It’s still nice, though, to smother them in hot cheese sauce, especially now that our January diets and good intentions have been blown away in a freezing gale. I use the same cheese sauce as in , it’s an old faithful that’s never failed me yet.
While I’m suggesting it as a side dish for a good meaty pie, it’s nice as a main with a salad, or with your Sunday roast. Have it with a post-dry-January beer, you’ve earned it.
• A knob of butter
• A tablespoon or so of flour
• Half a pint of milk
• Lots of grated cheese
• About a quarter, each, of a head of broccoli and of cauliflower
• A teaspoon of mustard
• Salt and pepper
• Optional – a handful of breadcrumbs or crisps
1) Start by cutting up your broccoli and cauliflower into fairly small florets. The stalks are good, too – no point in wasting them! Steam or boil them for a few minutes, until they’re starting to cook but not quite soft yet. Drain them.
2) Melt the butter in a saucepan, over a medium heat. Once it’s melted, add the flour, and mix until it’s a smooth paste.
3) Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time to keep the sauce smooth. Don’t panic if it does get lumpy, just keep stirring it – or whisk it, if you’ve got a whisk in the cupboard.
4) Add the cheese. A strong cheddar tastes lovely in this, and melts perfectly – but anything you like that melts is good. Keep back a big handful of grated cheese.
5) Add the mustard – this enhances the cheese flavour – and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
6) Once you’ve got a pan full of smooth, slightly runny cheese sauce, stir your drained vegetables in until they’re all well coated.
7) Put the whole mixture into a deep oven dish, and top it with the remaining grated cheese. If you want a really crunchy cheese topping, mix the cheese with breadcrumbs, or even some finely crushed crisp crumbs. It may sound odd, but I promise, it works.
8) Put the dish in a pre-heated medium-hot oven (about Gas Mark 6) for 20 minutes or so, until the vegetables are soft, the sauce is bubbling, and it’s crunchy and golden on top.
Chilli con carne
Not in the mood for beige British food? Need a bit of heat to clear your stuffy nose? Fair enough.
Chilli is easy to make to taste, whether you prefer it mild or fiery. It’s easy to make in bulk, too; given a day for the flavours to develop, the leftovers can be even tastier than the first helping.
I use diced casserole beef in mine, instead of the classic mince; it’s lots more filling and satisfying to eat. But you can swap the beef for mince, if you prefer – or even chicken. Vegetarians, swap the meat for as many kinds of beans as you can think of, and throwing in some vegetables or a handful of quinoa bulks it up even further with absolutely zero effort.
• A tablespoon of olive oil
• A packet (about 500g) of diced casserole steak
• Half a red onion
• A few cloves of garlic
• 1 teaspoon of hot chilli powder (adjust to taste)
• 1 teaspoon of paprika
• ½ teaspoon of cumin
• A pinch of ground cinnamon
• 1 beef stock cube
• 2 tablespoons or so of tomato puree
• A tin of chopped tomatoes
• A tin of kidney beans
• The juice of a lime
• A small handful of fresh coriander
• 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
• A tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1) Chop the garlic and onion finely.
2) Heat the olive oil in a big saucepan. While it’s heating, put the onion and garlic in – putting it in before it’s really hot stops it burning. Fry them until they start to soften.
3) Once they’re soft, put in the meat, and stir, until it starts to brown.
4) Add the spices at this point, and crumble the stock cube over too. Carry on stirring, to make sure the cooking meat doesn’t stick to the pan.
5) Once the meat’s browned, add the tomato puree, and keep stirring, until it’s all coated.
6) Pour in the chopped tomatoes, a little bit of water, the lime juice, the Worcestershire sauce, and the balsamic vinegar. If you like, you can swap the vinegar for half a glass or so of red wine. They both give the chilli a depth of colour and flavour, offsetting the sweetness of the tomatoes.
7) Chuck in the drained kidney beans, too.
8) Bring the whole thing up to a boil for a few minutes, before putting a lid on the pan, turning the heat right down, and leaving it to simmer. This is especially important with casserole steak, which can be tough to chew if it’s not cooked for long enough. It’s nearly impossible to overcook chilli like this – the longer, the better. An hour or more, if you need to. The flavours become more intense and the meat becomes tender, to the point of almost falling apart on the fork. If it starts to dry out, add a bit of water and more tomato puree.
9) A few minutes before serving, add the coriander (if you’d prefer to use dried coriander, add this before simmering).
10) Rice is the usual accompaniment, but I highly recommend swapping that for a buttery baked potato. Cover with grated cheese, sour cream and guacamole, of course.