This week we had the first cold snap of winter here in the south of England and while the trees lose their leaves , the nights get longer and people in the north tell us to toughen up, many people’s shoulders fall at the thought of winter properly setting in But with this plummet in temperature, I like to embrace proper winter cooking. I don’t just mean ‘Christmas’ cooking, where everything gives a nod to cinnamon or is stuffed with star anise, I mean proper hot food. Comforting meals that make you warm as you eat them.
Since we moved lout of London last March, we’ve been expecting freezing cold weather on a scale that you don’t see as much in a big city – but it hasn’t happened until now. So I’m ready! So in the hope that future memories are made of this, I want to take you back to this time last year – back to one of the best winter warmers possible I’ve ever had.
When we were in New Jersey, Alan and I visited my gorgeous cousin Marie, her husband Ken and their two children Sabrina and Kurt. Living a stones throw from New York City, they pay the price – Relatives and friends making the inevitable journey out to annoy… I mean visit them in their wooded landscape surrounded by lakes and stunning scenery. And as we like ogling Christmas light displays on houses to the backdrop of Marie’s good old fashioned English cynicism, we love a visit at this time of year.
Anyway, back to the story – When we were last there Marie cooked a dish that was the
perfect excuse to embrace the cold weather: Moussaka. Hot, tasty dishes like this are what winter’s all about. Marie’s a fantastic cook, not that she’d ever let you say it.
I didn’t get to write about the experience last year as I was too busy feeding my Christmas cake (and my friends) with alcohol as well as becoming a domestic God with my Aga. But before I get too heavily involved in making batches of mice pies, I wanted to shout out to the Nigella of the US Eastern time zone. Family cooking meals like that are worth travelling across the world for.
It’s at this point that I would normally give a recipe to you but Marie cooks a bit like I do. It’s the ‘Who needs a recipe when I could be pouring a glass of wine’ school of thought. So here are her detailed instructions:
Marie says: “I’m not really sure what the recipe was for the moussaka. I don’t think I follow one specifically. I usually just brown the lamb, add some garlic, meanwhile bake the eggplant/aubergine slices in the oven until softened. Add some tomatoes and herbs to the lamb mix, make a bechamel sauce, then pop them all together and top with lashings of cheese and bake. I’ll look through my ancient Delia book and see if that has anything I might have followed in terms of herbs, but I’d imagine it was oregano and perhaps a bit of nutmeg?!? This is my problem, I tend to wing it and then when I do have a success, have no way to replicate. So annoying.”
Well Marie, keep not knowing what the recipe is because it works! But maybe I don’t actually want the recipe… Like a lot of good food: Why try to cook it at home? You know you’ll appreciate it more when someone else does it for you. It’s make a trip stateside even more rewarding.