Monday, 21 December 2009


It’s snowing outside, Cranford’s on TV, the fire’s roaring and I’m eating Bendicks Bittermints. I’m in heaven. Yes, I've been absent for aaaages but we'll come to that in another post. What can I say? I've got no broadband at home. Annoying? Just a BIT.

Not actually six stone, but I suspect I’ve gained about half a stone in the past week. I’ve been inhaling mince pies by the dozen and every evening is punctuated by several glasses of red wine. I pulled out my running shoes this morning but one look at the ice on the pavements had me throwing them back in the cupboard. Fire on and mug of tea in hand I sunk into the sofa in front of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation instead. I can deal with my winter layer of fat another day.

Meanwhile anything remotely crisp, fresh and brightly coloured has been abandoned from my diet and evening meals consist of what I refer to as ‘brown food’: deep, rich burgundy stews, thick hearty soups, lots of meat, lots of starches and lots of red wine. Oh and puddings – and I use the term pudding deliberately rather than dessert – think molten chocolate, oozing treacle and dark sticky toffee.

And then of course once Christmas is out of the way thoughts turn to New Year. I can take or leave New Year’s Eve – all that palaver for a tick of the clock? Hello anti-climax. Maybe I’ve just never had a really great Hogmanay. There was the year I spent it in the St John’s Ambulance tent in town while my then flatmate passed the stroke of midnight by throwing up into a papier mache dish, or the millennium, when my I was driving up from Derbyshire to spend the turn of the century with friends but I ran out of petrol, so instead spent it cold, pissed off and sober at the side of a B road, waiting for the AA to turn up. There was also the year when Carrie and I lived together and I got plastered on home-measure Manhattans, so that when she was raring to go, I was collapsed, drunk and melancholy on the floor. The weather was so awful they cancelled the street party, so we resigned ourselves to watching Jools Holland instead. Then the TV broke. So we switched on the radio. And it broke too. We spent midnight Carrie and I, me drunk and incomprehensible and her staring longingly out of the window wondering what she’d done to deserve such a crap lot. It’s the crazy frenzied level of expectation which invariably results in a let down. I’m happy to admit that one of the best new years I’ve had was the one I spent alone in bed, with a huge box of chocolates, a bottle of Champagne and the Sex And The City box set.

New year’s day on the other hand, I’m fully on board with. I’d much rather welcome the first day of the year with open arms than say a tearful drink-fuelled goodbye to the old one while trying to desperately remember what comes after ‘we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet’. And then there’s the food. Black bun? Cake! And steak pie? Oh aye. Even the booze has an air of food about it - Bloody Mary’s are, after all, kinda like alcoholic cold soup. Without the pressure of the impending midnight, January 1st is a perfect day to relax with friends in a cosy pub before trudging home to feed alcohol-soaked bodies with brown food. A poke about in Nigella's Feast and this is one of my all-time favourite comfort food/hangover cure dishes: it’s rich, it’s warming and it’s filling. Puy lentils braised in red wine and eaten with sausages which have been cooked in the oven until brown and sticky. The beauty of this dish is that, save for a little initial chopping, it doesn’t require a huge amount of attention but rather can be left on the stove to putter away while you nurse your hangover with a hair of the dog. Oh, and please please don’t prick your sausages – you’ll lose all the lovely flavour. Incidentally, this dish is traditionally eaten at New Year in Italy, the lentils signifying coins and supposedly promising good fortune in the year ahead. Bonus!


good quality sausages, 2 per person or 3 for greedy folk
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
smoked pancetta cubes or streaky bacon finely chopped
olive oil
500g Puy lentils, rinsed
2 bay leaves
Dijon mustard
300ml red wine
750ml water or stock
fresh parsley

Put the sausages in the oven and let them do their thing.

Heat about three tablespoons of oil in a large heavy based pan and add the pancetta. Cook gently until it colours lightly.

Add the carrot, garlic, celery and onion, and cook until they’ve softened a little but don’t let them colour.

Tip in the lentils, stir until slicked with the oil and add a couple of teaspoons of Dijon mustard.

Pour in the wine and water or stock until the lentils are just covered in liquid, tuck in the bay leaves, bring to the boil then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until just tender.

Check the seasoning, stir in chopped parsley and serve with sticky sausages.

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