The recipes I share this week are not exactly new year, new you, but with the arrival of our second son just before Christmas, our baby bubble requires some reward and indulgence after sleepless nights and full-speed days.
Winter comfort food is the name of the game and recipes which require minimal effort but provide maximum flavour are high on our agenda (aren't they always). These recipes are ideal for meal prepping and making ahead, a method of cooking I never truly embraced until we were catapulted into parenthood.
The adjustment of going from one to two little ones in our house was made easier when our family came to stay over Christmas, but since then we've been flying solo and learning how to have octopus arms. This means running a slightly tighter ship to ensure dinner gets to the table without too much trouble.
One thing that has helped us in the last two years is meal planning. Keep it as simple as possible - just five base meals that you can shop for, have the ingredients to hand and make ahead if you need to. When I first began doing this I planned for breakfast and lunches too but you end up with a shopping list the length of your arm and inevitably a lot of waste.
Stick to five core recipes and you can factor in using leftovers for lunch the next day or transform them into something later in the week.
Here you'll find comfort in a simplified version of the classic chicken pot pie with a savoury cobbler topping, a tender butter chicken that lets the slow cooker do all the work, and a Mongolian beef that packs an umami punch with just a handful of ingredients.
A little prep goes a long way with all these recipes, and you can your kitchen will take care of the rest.
A simplified version of chicken pot pie, the comfort-food classic, which replaces the pastry element with a far easier to make cobbler topping, and simplifies the cooking process. An ideal recipe for when you have loads of guest coming over or a simple solution to a midweek supper. It's also the perfect dish to make with leftover chicken. If you want to make this ahead, prep the filling in advance and store in the fridge. When you're ready to cook, add the cobbler topping and you've a meal in minutes.
For the filling:
125g drained pickled pearl onions
1 large carrot, finely diced
2 thyme sprigs, leaves removed
2 tbsp plain flour
500ml chicken stock
1 tsp dijon
1 rotisserie chicken, torn into bite-sized pieces
150g frozen peas
For the dumplings:
225g cold butter, cubed
475g self-raising flour
100g grated Irish cheddar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Melt 25g of the butter in a medium sized ovenproof casserole pan, add the onions and carrot and fry slowly for about 6-8 minutes or until softened with a little colour. Add the thyme and allow to soften for a minute followed by the remaining 50g of butter to the saucepan and allow to melt over a medium heat.
2. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking to combine.
3. Gradually add the stock whisking briskly until it thickens. If it goes a little lumpy, don't worry - just whisk vigorously until it becomes smooth.
4. Season with a generous pinch of salt, black pepper and add the mustard. Pour in the cream and stir through along with the chicken and peas, allow to simmer for 1 minute and season.
5. Prepare the dumplings by rubbing the butter and flour together in a bowl until resembling fine breadcrumbs, add ¾ of the cheese and season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Bring the mixture together using a knife with a couple of tablespoons of water until you have a dough, bring together into a ball using your hands. Knead slightly, before forming into 20 dumplings each around the size of a golf ball.
6. Arrange on top of the chicken mix in the pan, starting from the outside leaving a little space in between each one to allow for rising, and work your way into the inside to give a nice pattern. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese and place in the oven for 25 minutes until they are risen and golden.
This butter chicken is truly a one-pot wonder and couldn't be easier. Throw all the ingredients into the slow cooker, set to high and forget about it. The results might not be traditional but you are left with juicy chicken and a rich, flavoursome curry that's as good as any restaurant.
Tip: Fresh, good quality spices are the key to this dish.
For the chicken:
8 skinless chicken thighs
500g potatoes, peeled and halved
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
4 green cardamom pods, crushed
750ml tomato passata
1 x 400g tin coconut milk
1. Put the chicken along with all other ingredients for the chicken, into the slow cooker set to high, stir to mix everything together. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 4-6 hours until the chicken is tender.
2. Once cooked, you can shred the chicken meat off the bones if you like, or serve whole. Serve the butter chicken in bowls with naan, mango chutney and fresh coriander.
Go into any Chinese restaurant here in Los Angeles and you'll likely find Mongolian beef on the menu. My version is great when you're in a rush as it only takes 15 minutes to prep before going into a slow-cooker or casserole pot to cook low and slow.
1.5kg flank steak or skirt steak, thinly sliced
4 tbsp cornflour
6 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 tbsp sesame oil
175ml low sodium soy sauce (12 tbsp)
100g brown sugar
1 tsp white pepper
6 spring onions, finely sliced
½ cucumber, thinly sliced
Cooked egg noodles
1. Place the sliced steak pieces in a bowl with the corn flour and mix until the meat is well coated.
2. Add the meat along with the remaining ingredients to a slow cooker, stirring to combine completely. Cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 5 hours until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced slightly.
3. If cooking in a large casserole, heat over a high heat and add the sesame oil, fry the steak pieces until browned before adding the garlic, chilli and ginger and frying for a further minute or so. Add the remaining ingredients and stir through until completely coated. Lower the heat and place a lid on top and continue to cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and the meat is tender.
4. Serve the Mongolian beef with noodles & cucumber slices.
We've finally reached lunchbox status in our house and I'm very excited to start making them every day! I've been told by plenty of parents they are the bane of their existence so I intend to wallow in the excitement for as long as it lasts. I'm currently loving these stainless steel bento-style lunch boxes which can be ordered online at planetbox.com.
Then there were two
The new addition in our house has been settling in and we're just about finding our feet as parents of two!
I love this brilliant vegan cookbook, jam-packed with plenty of plant-based ideas from a 30-year-old Dublin restaurant which has always been well ahead of the curve. Unfussy recipes like Tempeh Bolognese, a Keralan curry and even a vegan take on a full-Irish brekkie should easily help you through Veganuary and beyond!
There are plenty of reasons why New Year is a good time to kickstart a fresh take on eating. In my case, it's the relief after the copious amount of grub that was devoured over the festive period. In our house, just as life comes in waves, so too do our eating habits, and after all that indulgence, stocking up on plenty of greens, wholegrains and pulses is always a good idea.
For the last 10 years writing recipes for Christmas, I have always dreaded coming up with new ways to make turkey and ham leftovers into something I actually want to eat once all the pomp and ceremony of the big day has faded into obscurity. I've come to realise that if it's not a mega turkey-and-ham sambo scarfed down Nigella-style in a dressing gown with only the light of the fridge to expose your gluttony, the dreaded leftovers need bold flavour to make them shine.