Two weeks ago I was writing a post in bare feet and with a glass of freshly squeezed, tree-fresh orange juice at my elbow. Today, at a sparklingly sunny 5.5 C, I greet you with double layer socks, a woollen under-clothing shoulder warmer thingy, and a ridiculous number of layers. I am also jiggling my legs and flexing my toes to keep the circulation going. With any luck these fidgety movements will also burn a few calories. Don’t scoff: I’ve read that’s one reason slim people are slim. Must be worth a shot.
Across the northerly latitudes many a home-based worker will currently have on some version of my keep-warm-this-winter gear. Perhaps you yourself are sporting a fleecy leisure garment, or even some flannel. I am anticipating serious scarf action and fingerless gloves, a la Steptoe, in the not-too-distant future. And I’ve looked out my stash of jaunty berets and ski hats. I’m not joking.
At this time of year I can forget what a sight I must look, a combination of lost Inuit and itinerate gardener. Not infrequently do I open the door to wide-eyed unsuspecting neighbours hoping only for a small favour or to give me something from their garden. They cover it well but I must look such a wild contrast to how I appear when going out for the day. Or rather I hope it’s a wild contrast. I could in fact be setting myself up for an awful Trinny and Susannah-style makeover from ‘kind’ friends and relatives. As long as they let me keep my shoulder warmer…
Other than the digging out hideous but warm clothing, to me plummeting temperatures also means comfort food. In fact last night’s supper was baked-in-the-box epoisses, which is just about the most delicious French cheese ever. If you aren’t familiar with it epoisses is a raw cows’ milk, washed rind cheese from the Burgundy region of France. It is characterised by a strong woodland nose, with a milder, almost dried fruit taste (it is washed in brandy!).You can get pasteurised versions in the US although the flavour is allegedly more subdued. This would however make it suitable for those on chemotherapy and might be nice if you need to keep weight on.
For our little fireside feast sweet-sour cornichon, torn hunks of fresh baguette and crisp perky radishes were used to dunk and smear. I could’ve baked two of those babies and we would still have selfishly plundered the singed wooden box for crusty bits. If you’d like to do the same, take a wooden box of epoisses or Camembert, remove the paper from the cheese and put the cheese back in the box and onto a baking tray. You can either bake it as is for 15 minutes at 200 C/400 F, or smear it with a cut clove of garlic, poke it a bit with a knife and pour over a couple of tablespoons of white wine.
Usually the molten cheese is corraled in the box but ours escaped a bit, so the tray is a must. Here is a pic of the epoisses before it hit the oven – too messy for post-baking photo call. It isn’t an every day supper by any stretch of the imagination, but if you eat dairy it does make a quick, filling supper. And if eaten with a pile of crudite vegetables and pickles, isn’t too rubbishy. In fact, epoisses has less fat than commonly eaten hard cheeses: 21-24g of fat per 100g compared with 33.5g per 100g for Cheddar. I find, personally, that I am very satisfied with a smaller amount of the former as it is not a cheese to be scoffed down quickly and it has such a complex, teasing taste. But sometimes a good old cheese and chutney sandwich is just the thing. Today I am balancing things out with a fruity breakfast and my beloved Clearspring brown rice (baked) ramen noodles with ribbons of cavolo nero for lunch. I haven’t thought about supper but it won’t have cheese.
This week I am offering you a comfort dish that even Madonna or Victoria Beckham might consider eating. It is a cinch to prepare, especially if you cook the squash ahead of time. But even if not, you can prep the other ingredients and then do something else meantime, like pay bills (hmm) or read the newspaper (I wish). I’ve not microwaved squash but it appears easy enough, as long as you pierce it first. However you make it perhaps think about cooking more than one squash and freezing the prepared strands for later experimentation. Just defrost, drain and warm for five minutes or so. Oh, and by the way, sub prawns for feta cheese if you are vegetarian, and if vegan whack in some cooked Northern or white beans, adding more thyme or oregano for extra oomph.
Spaghetti squash is a handy ingredient for the neglectful cook, or anyone who likes to scoop up multiples of foodstuff for later use. Normally one can’t bulk buy fresh foods, unless you are doing a lot of juicing or soup making. But spaghetti squash is that rare food, as tasty and useful on the day you buy it as it is a month later. I tend to buy up a few when I see them (easier for you North Americans), and leave them to languish in a dark cupboard until I remember them. I don’t know why I leave them so long as they are hugely easy and useful additions to countless recipes and recipe tweaks. The reason I say ‘tweak’ is because it is most often used as a pasta substitute, although it’s great as a warm salad ingredient and in things like curries. I’ve had a look at spaghetti squash recipes online, and a few look really nice. I fancy trying this, this and definitely this. And please, please check out the fabulous #squashlove recipes listed at mis pensamientos and at The Spicy RD. There you will find links to lots of recipes from ‘bloghop’ members for all kinds of seasonal squashes. I am inspired to try quite a few! Do not read on an empty stomach…
1 tbsp olive oil
200g/7 oz raw, prepared prawns OR block of best feta cheese (don’t cook though) OR cooked white beans
18 cherry/grape tomatoes (or more)
50g/1.75 oz semi-dried tomatoes (sometimes called ‘mi-cuit’), snipped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
50ml/3.5 tbsp white wine OR vegetable stock
1 tbsp chopped oregano or thyme leaves
2 handsful rocket/arugula
Aleppo pepper flakes, optional
Heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat and add in the prawns. Add the tomatoes and turn up the heat a bit, stir frying until the prawns lose some of their grey colour. Now add the semi-dried tomatoes and garlic. Stir fry these ingredients for one minute before adding the wine. Let everything bubble up before adding the oregano or thyme, rocket, Aleppo pepper (if using) and finally the spaghetti squash strands. Serve immediately, with chilli flakes for those who want them. Serves 2-3