Autumnal comforts

Autumn is my all time favourite season.  Why?  Maybe because of the beautiful changes that nature brings.  The brightly lit summer sun suddenly takes on a more golden hue.  The leaves undergo a chameleon-esque colour transformation from a lustrous green to bursts of red and yellow tinged with copper tones.  The temperature changes, people dress differently and best of all, the food around us begins to change, which makes it my favourite food season of all. 

Supermarkets and stores seem to come alive with an array of brightly coloured squashes and pumpkins in a whole host of shapes and sizes.  Mushrooms suddenly treble in quantity and variety and our palates undergo a change, craving warmer, heartier food, as the weather cools down and winter draws near.  It is simply the greatest season, offering the finest food.  The season for extravagance, bearing such fruits as truffles, game birds and red meat galore. 

Root vegetables and shellfish, likes Mussels and Clams, are best eaten in months ending in “ber” (such as September, October, November & December)  I just love everything about this season. I was born in winter and the fact that the weather is getting darker and colder, is just so endearing for me.  I’m a winter baby and I find no greater pleasure than getting dressed up in my winter woollies, eating fabulously hearty food and snuggling up to loved ones.

So what should we be eating right now?  Well the list would be endless.  But I would say go with what you feel.  London is cold and I feel like eating more red meat and root vegetables.  Freshly made soups, earthy stews and hearty homemade food.  Gone are the days of lettuce and crudités, bring on the good stuff and make my portion generous!

Every autumn, I set myself a new task to learn how to make dishes, I was always too apprehensive or just too lazy to try and make.  I always love making fresh homemade soups, they are so easy to make if you have a hand blender and so deliciously moreish too.  They can be low in carbs, low in fat… Basically low in whatever you want them to be as YOU are controlling what you put in them!  So much better than opening a can of soup and SO much fresher and more flavoursome.  Once you start making your own soups, you will never go back to buying them again. 

The basic principle is to choose your vegetables, whether leek and potato, tomato and red pepper, pumpkin and ginger or Broccoli (with a little Stilton cheese) Find some good stock, either vegetable or chicken  (you can use Knorr cubes if you like) and just make a couple of litres of stock and boil your veggies in the stock.  You can thicken your soup with a little diced potato or sweeten it with some diced sweet potato.  Once the vegetables are cooked (but NEVER overcooked) using your hand blender, just whizz until your get your desired consistency, whether chunky or smooth.  Drizzle a little olive oil and season to taste.  How simple is that?  Once you start, you won’t stop.  I’m hooked on making soups… The next one I want to make is a cauliflower soup with a little cream to enrich it and maybe a little luxurious drizzle of white truffle oil to really finish it off.  Simply wonderful.

I find this season is also a great time to start roasting things again.  Root vegetables to joints of meat, you can roast most meat, fish and vegetables easily.  I absolutely love a good roast chicken.  When done properly, it simply cannot be beaten!  My rule is to buy a small or medium bird, as the larger birds can often be older and pumped full of food just to make them bigger, but they lose their tenderness and become dry and unsavoury.  

Chicken has to be succulent, juicy and cooked to perfection.  Especially if you prefer breast meat to thigh and leg, as breast meat has little fat and is not able to retain moisture compared to other areas of the bird.  So, I take my small/medium sized bird and I preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade (400 degrees Fahrenheit) and I drizzle some olive oil over the bird and season it with ‘Maldon Sea Salt’ – The ONLY salt worth owning, some fresh black pepper and either some dried sage or dried thyme.  I feel that dried herbs work better as they don’t burn in the oven and they lend a better flavour to the meat…  Also a peeled and quartered onion and a halved lemon stuffed in the cavity, also work as excellent aromatics and perfume the bird from the inside. 

Once the oven is hot, put the chicken on the top shelf and roast for 30 minutes, at which point I turn the oven up to 250C (480 F) and let it crisp up nicely for the remaining 30 minutes.  After the full hour is completed, the chicken needs to be taken out, covered with aluminium foil and left to rest for at least 10-15 minutes, to allow all the juices to flow back through the meat, making it moist and succulent.  Then remove the foil, carve the bird and serve with oven roasted diced or wedged potatoes, seasoned with olive oil, salt & pepper and cooked for about 35 minutes.  A perfect accompaniment to chicken.  Use the pans juices as a gravy for your bird.  The onion and lemon and herbs will have made a deliciously zesty gravy that is ideal for pouring back onto your chicken, once carved.

As human beings, our bodies are designed to eat food that’s seasonal, food that’s ripe and ready to eat, rather than things that have been flown across the world to suit our tastes and probably aren’t even fully ripe.  We should be eating produce that is in season, not things that have been frozen, canned or preserved for future consumption.  This is a pretty harsh imposition by anyone’s standards, but we could try, at the very least. 

I absolutely love comfort food, and I think a lot of my fellow foodies also look forward to winter as the flavours become more intense, the sauces more rich and the food more luxurious.  Everything from parsnips and carrots, sweet potatoes and celeriac… to Shepherds pie and ‘Moules Mariniere’… dipping bread in everything, because everything seems to have a sauce or liquid that is begging to be soaked up by a piece of well baked bread.   And “Aash”…!!!  Let’s not forget our wonderful Persian soups and warming broths.  Aash-e-reshteh being my absolute favourite.  Unparalleled in its hearty goodness, packed with pulses, noodles and herbs.  Topped with everything from minced meat to fried onions and fried mint… Further enriched with velvety rich kashk which transforms it from a green colour to a unique, yet familiar, colour all of its own.  I seem to find comfort and contentment in the bottom of every single bowl of it!

Comfort cooking is about simple, yet plentiful bounty.  Flavour on a major scale with many unique components that work in harmony and please the palate endlessly.  But it’s not only the taste that should evoke comfort, but also the process itself.  No messing about with endless chopping and multi-stage preparation and mountains of tools and dishes to wash.  How about one meal, one pot?  One pot cookery is seriously underrated.  But if you think ‘Khoresht’ then perhaps it’s more familiar.  The French do wonders with one pot cooking.  The even invented the fabulous cookware to do it all in.  “Le Creuset” [Cro-zay] is simply the best cookware range on the planet.  They can be used on the stove and then put into the oven and the whole item is ovenproof from head to toe.  A real treasure I couldn’t live without.  Stewed lamb shanks with thyme, shallots and red wine… Or braised beef with mushrooms, carrots and potatoes in Guinness…. Or last but by no means least…my unhealthy obsession with Ghormeh Sabzi.  Let’s leave it at that.

Restaurants, supermarkets and outdoor markets alike, take on changes in produce that are more remarkable and more noticeable than any other season.  Browse through jams, chutneys and marmalades… White truffles, black truffles, porcini mushrooms and more… Rabbit, pigeon, guinea fowl… Cavolo Nero (black Italian Cabbage) lentils, beans and winter roots….  Do something different!  Try something different!  Who knows, you may even like it.  There is so much more variety in our stores these days, and its begging for your attention.  Its not always expensive, it’s not always complicated, and often it’s just another take on what your Mother used to make you anyway!  Be brave, be bold, be daring… Let me know how it goes!

Autumnal food is in fashion.  Salads are out, soups are in.  Choose foods that bear the colours of the season, from warm oranges and yellows, to deep reds and browns…  Peel, chop and lovingly prepare.   Add a pinch of enthusiasm, season with tenderness, drizzle with love and share with a few lucky people.  Now THAT’S what I call comfort food.

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Iranian Singles

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Meet your Persian Love Today!
Meet your Persian Love Today!