January is the start of new intentions.

It can be a bleak, cold month with leaden skies, battering rain and cold wind or bright and crisp with frost and snow. Whatever the weather, the shortest day is past and I’m looking forward to spring.

Christmas and New Year festivities are also over, encouraging me to eat lighter, fresher food. A lot of people start a healthy eating or diet plan to counter the excesses of the Christmas period. I don’t usually feel the need as my diet is already healthy.

If my waistbands have become a bit tight, cutting out snacks and reducing portion sizes usually does the trick in a couple of weeks.

Here’s what I have been making for family in January…

Lamb casseroled with red wine, spices & squash

Spiced Lamb and Red Wine Casserole

A tasty casserole, lightened with squash. I served this with mash and green vegetables.

Serves 4 – 5

300g diced leg of lamb

200g diced butternut squash

1 medium onion, chopped

150ml red wine

150ml water

½ beef stock cube

1 bay leaf

6 juniper berries

1 star anise

Rind and juice of 1 orange

Good handful of parsley

  1. Heat a heavy based pan over a high heat, add a drizzle of oil and brown the meat for a few minutes.
  2. Reduce the heat a little, add the onion and fry to soften.
  3. Add the red wine, bubble for a few moments, then add the water and crumble in the stock cube.
  4. Add the bay leaf, juniper berries, star anise and orange rind. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, put a lid on the pan and cook for 1 hour.
  5. Add the squash and orange juice, cook gently for a further 30mins. Stir through the parsley, season to taste and thicken the sauce a little if necessary with either rice or cornflour.
A warming plate of leek, potato & chorizo soup

Leek, Potato & Chorizo Soup

Good old comforting leek and potato soup! The added chorizo gives a small amount of protein, keeping you fuller for longer.

Serves 4 – 6

½ regular chorizo sausage, diced

2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced

500g floury potatoes, cubed

Approx. 1 ltr chicken or vegetable stock

  1. Heat a heavy based pan over a medium high heat. Add the chorizo and fry for a few moments.
  2. Add the leeks and potatoes, stir everything together and add enough stock to just cover the chorizo and vegetables. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer, put a lid on the pan and cook gently for 20 mins.
  3. Once the time is up, use a potato masher and roughly mash the potatoes into the soup. Season to taste, add more stock if the soup is too thick and serve.
A dish of beef olives

Beef Olives Bourguignonne

Serves 4

700g minute steak or 8 pieces

1 tbsp oil

275g mushrooms, chopped

100g smoked streaky bacon, diced into 5mm pieces

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp parsley, chopped

1 tsp thyme, chopped

100g breadcrumbs

3 small onions, finely chopped

300ml red wine

300ml beef stock

1 stick celery, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

Cornflour or rice flour (optional)

  1. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a heavy based pan and fry the bacon to lightly brown. Add 1/3 of the chopped onion, fry with the bacon until soft and golden. Add the mushrooms and fry until soft and all the juice from them has evaporated. Remove from the heat, add the parsley, thyme and breadcrumbs. Season and set aside to cool.
  2. Take the steak, lay out on your surface, bat out with a rolling pin or meat mallet if the thickness is uneven. Divide the mushroom and bacon filling between the pieces of meat. Roll up, tucking in the sides and securing with string or a cocktail stick.
  3. Pre heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas2
  4. Heat 1 tbsp oil over a high heat in a large frying pan. Sear the beef olives on all sides until browned. Remove from the pan to an oven proof dish. Deglaze the pan with some of the red wine, bubbling it well, scraping the bottom of the pan and pouring the liquid into the dish with the olives.
  5. Clean the pan, add the remaining oil. Heat to medium high, add the remaining onion, celery and garlic. Fry to soften and brown, then add the remaining wine to the pan. Bubble and reduce slightly, then add the beef stock. Bring to the boil, pour over the beef olives, add the bay leaves, cover and put into the oven for 1 ½ hours or until the beef is tender.
  6. Strain the sauce from the olives into a frying pan, taste and reduce a little to intensify the flavours. Season if necessary and thicken with a little cornflour or rice flour to finish. Pour back over the beef olives and serve.
A fillet of salmon served on a tomato & tarragon sauce

Roast Salmon with Tomato & Tarragon Sauce

Quick and easy, make the sauce while the salmon is cooking. It can also be made ahead of time and re heated. Serve with salad or vegetables.

Serves 2 – 3

1 salmon fillet per person

50ml white wine

2 large tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped

3 cocktail gherkins

2 tbsp capers

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp Worcester sauce

100ml passata

1 tbsp chopped tarragon

  1. Pre heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7
  2. Put the salmon on a greased baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and bake for 15 mins.
  3. Heat a heavy based frying pan over a high heat. Add the wine and bubble for a few seconds.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, capers and gherkins, cook for a few moments, then add the lemon juice and passata. Turn the heat down and simmer until the liquid has reduced and the sauce has thickened.
  5. Once the salmon is cooked, remove from the oven. Spoon a pool of sauce over the bottom of each serving plate and place a piece of salmon on top.
Buckwheat galette stuffed with a creamy smoked salmon & vegetable filling

Smoked Salmon & Vegetable Galettes

Serves 4 to 6

Galettes

100g buckwheat flour

1 egg

300ml milk

Pinch of salt

50g butter

  1. Beat the flour, egg, salt and milk together allow to sit for about 1 hour, or make the day before and keep in the fridge.
  2. Melt the butter and whisk through the batter.
  3. Heat a heavy based frying pan over a high heat, smear a little oil over the surface with a piece of kitchen towel. When the pan is smoking hot, add enough batter to make a thin layer over the surface of the pan. Reduce the heat a little and when the batter is beginning to brown around the edge, flip the pancake over and cook on the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter.

The pan needs to be hot enough to make a lacey pancake so that the steam from the cooking pancake can escape. If the pan is not hot enough, the pancake will bubble up with steam underneath, won’t be able to brown and be difficult to turn.

Filling

1 tsp oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, chopped

150g frozen spinach, defrosted & squeezed out or 300g fresh leaves

170g butternut squash, cut into 5mm cubes

170g broccoli, cut into small florets

100g mascarpone cheese

200g smoked salmon, cut into strips

Salt & pepper

  1. Heat the one to 180C/350F/Gas4
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and fry for a few minutes to soften but not brown. Add the garlic and stir together.
  3. Put the squash and broccoli into the pan, stir and once sizzling, put a lid on the pan, turn the heat down low and allow everything to steam for 5 mins.
  4. Stir through the spinach and mascarpone cheese. Season with salt & pepper.
  5. Stir through the smoked salmon.

Make up the pancakes – line a baking sheet with non stick paper, put one pancake onto the paper, put a spoonful of smoked salmon mixture in the middle and fold over the edges of the pancake. Repeat with the remaining mixture and pancakes. Put into the oven for 10 mins to warm everything through.

Serve with salad

A bowl of chowder made with leeks, sweetcorn and potatoes

Leek and Sweetcorn Chowder

A chowder is a thick, hearty meal in a bowl. Perfect for having in the fridge ready to eat when hunger strikes.

Serves about 6

4 cobs sweetcorn

500g floury potatoes, diced

1 large leek, cleaned and finely sliced

800ml chicken or vegetable stock

15g butter

½ tsp mixed herbs

Small bunch of parsley

  1. Cut the sweetcorn kernels off the cobs, heat the butter in a heavy based pan and fry the sweetcorn and leek for a few minutes to soften.
  2. Add the diced potato, mixed herbs and the stock. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, put a lid on the pan and cook for 20mins.
  3. Chop the parsley and add to the soup once finished. Check the seasoning and serve.
Cranberry and orange slice

Cranberry & Orange Slice

Cranberries & orange go hand in hand, making quite a tart cake. If you find it a little sour, drizzle over a little glace icing.

Makes 12 – 16 slices

340g self raising flour

200g light brown sugar

100g butter

2 eggs

Rind and juice of 1 orange

300g fresh or frozen & defrosted cranberries

  1. Grease and line a 20cm square cake tin, heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4.
  2. Rub the butter into the flour and sugar. Stir in the eggs, orange rind and juice, then fold through the cranberries.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and roughly spread out into an even layer with your fingers or a spoon. Don’t bother making the top smooth, just even the mixture into the tin.
  4. Bake for approx. 45 – 60mins.
  5. Remove from the oven, allow to cool a little in the tin before turning out.
  6. Cut once cold and serve with Greek Yogurt.
Vegetable Paella made with red peppers, green beans and Brussels sprouts

Vegetable Paella

Serves 4 – 6

¾ mug paella rice

2 small onions, thinly sliced

1 red pepper, diced

100g green beans, topped & tailed, cut into 3cm long pieces

200g Brussels sprouts, quartered

1 small can chickpeas, drained

1 tin chopped tomatoes + 1 tin water

1 clove garlic, thinly slice

1 glass white wine

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp paprika

2 tsp vegetable stock powder

Pinch chilli flakes (optional)

1 tbsp olive oil

  1. Heat the oil in a large, shallow pan, add the onion and garlic, sizzle for a few minutes to soften but not brown.
  2. Add the red pepper, stir to combine, then add the spices, chickpeas and rice. Stir well to coat the beans and grains with the spices.
  3. Add the white wine, bubble to reduce, then add the tomatoes and the can of water.
  4. Stir well, bring to the boil, turn down the heat to a simmer, put a lid on the pan and cook for 20mins.
  5. Add the green beans and sprouts, cook for a further 12mins.
  6. Season and serve.
A dish of chicken breast stuffed with vegetables and served with a watercress sauce

Stuffed Breast of Chicken with Watercress Sauce

Serves 2

2 skinless chicken breasts

5cm piece each of leek, carrot, celery – very finely chopped

1 med mushroom – very finely chopped

A small clove of garlic – very finely chopped

12 rashers pancetta

Knob of butter

  1. Melt the butter in a small pan, add the finely chopped vegetables and mushroom and gently fry until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.  Allow to cool.
  2. Cut a slit in each chicken breast and fill the pocket with some of the vegetable mixture, don’t be tempted to overstuff! The edges of the slit should still be able to meet.
  3. Take ½ the pancetta and lay the rashers out on a surface, horizontally, overlapping slightly from bottom to top.
  4. Pre heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6.
  5. Lay one of the stuffed chicken breasts vertically in the middle of the pancetta strips and starting from one side, cross alternate ends of the pancetta over the chicken, stretching it slightly and tucking it under if possible. Repeat with the remaining chicken breast.
  6. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 20 – 30min. Remove from the oven & allow to rest.

Sauce

1 small onion, finely chopped

10g butter

2 tbsp white wine (optional)

100ml chicken stock

40g watercress, chopped

1 – 2 tbsp half fat crème fraiche or double cream

  1. Melt the butter in a medium sized pan, add the chopped onion and cook for a minute or two until it has softened.
  2. Add the wine if using and allow it to bubble and reduce slightly.
  3. Add the chicken stock, any pan juices from the chicken, crème fraiche or cream and ¾ of the watercress. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  4. Add the remaining watercress, blend to smooth, season with salt & pepper, thicken with a little cornflour if necessary.

Serve by cutting the chicken breasts at 45 degrees either into half or 5 slices, putting a pool of sauce on a plate and placing the chicken on top.