A cure for the dreaded lurgy

The lurgy is upon us all, again. I thought we’d kicked it to the kerb, but it’s back in a slightly morphed form. Everyone I know is sick in some form or other – one of my colleagues told me yesterday that she felt like “little demons were sticking red-hot pokers into me”, which made me feel glad that I haven’t had that symptom yet. I think we all need holidays in the sun, but they seem a bit thin on the ground this year.

Obviously, I am not going to pretend I have the ultimate panacea in my kitchen cupboards, but I can share instructions for a ‘cure’ that mitigates the more common winter virus symptoms (particularly the ones that involve feeling very sorry for oneself).
Cold cure soup
Relax, this doesn’t require a major kitchen assault, just a bit of heating up. You can do this, trust me.

Step 1: When you’ve stumbled to the shops for another box of tissues, toss a tin of chicken soup in your basket too. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it shouldn’t be creamy – simple chicken and vegetable or chicken noodle soups are best. Add a lemon, some chilli flakes and some garlic (of course, if you had these things in your cupboards you might not have gotten sick in the first place, but now’s not the time for a lecture on pantry management). Stumble home again and lie on the sofa to regain your equilibrium.

Step 2: When you’re ready to stand up again, heat the soup to nearly boiling point. Remove it from the heat and add two cloves chopped garlic, the grated zest and juice of the lemon and a good sprinkle of chilli flakes (or chopped fresh chilli). A little chopped parsley boosts the vitamin C content, too. Stir gently and pour into a bowl.

Step 3: Return to the sofa with your healing bowl of soup. Sip slowly, then lie down to rest while it works its magic. Repeat as necessary.

If you’ve passed this stage of the lurgy but still have a nagging cough/sore throat, this thyme tea might help. Anything’s worth a try, right?

Apple and almond porridge

I’m sorry, the recent cold snap is all my fault. I was the one who said winter was over; I was the one who ignored the merino tights sale and who figured my daughter’s ever-shrinking raincoat would last out the year. Rest assured I have been paying for my folly. Last weekend, while running in four layers (vest, long-sleeved running top, Icebreaker, rain jacket) plus hat, plus beanie, plus husband’s gloves, all I could do was think about the steaming bowl of porridge I was going to have when I got home and my hands defrosted enough to stir the pot. The temperatures have since returned to double figures (just), but I’m not going to take any chances.

Apple and almond porridge
I find the easiest way to do this on busy mornings is to get it going over low heat and let it bubble away while I get ready for work/chivvy child out of bed/make lunches. If you’re not a morning person, you can start this the night before – just put all the ingredients in a pot and leave it somewhere cold until the morning. In the summer, you can do this and call it bircher muesli. But those days are still a bit too far away to think about, I reckon.

2/3 cup rolled oats
1 apple, grated (include the skin)
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp (a small pinch) ground cloves
a good pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 – 2 1/2 cups almond milk

Put all ingredients in a small pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring often, and cook until thick and ‘ploppy’ (ie, bubbling lazily like a mud pool). Add more almond milk or water if it gets too thick. Serve with the porridge topping of your choice – here it’s Zany Zeus Greek yoghurt, a drizzle of vanilla syrup and a scattering of chopped almonds. Cream and golden syrup are also good options. If it’s a really cold day you can justify cream and Greek yoghurt…

Hope you are keeping at exactly the right temperature, wherever you are in the world.

How to make really good soup from nothing (and a $2.50 bunch of cavolo nero)

Today’s Three Ways With… column is all about food waste – using up the stuff you’d normally throw away. While I was thinking about it, I realised I do a lot of food ‘saving’ that’s unconscious. Things aren’t so desperate that I reuse teabags (I remember seeing a posh and terrifying friend of my mother’s doing this and being thoroughly shocked), but I do like to extract maximum value from things.

Leftovers get taken for work lunches, baguette ends are turned into breadcrumbs or crostini, spotty bananas are frozen for smoothies or baking – it’s stuff that seems basic household common sense. But I fear that the very existence of campaigns like Love Food Hate Waste (which I’m proud to support) means that people have lost their way.

I guess if you don’t cook often, or see cooking as a difficult chore, then you’re less likely to think about using up your leftovers. Or, you may be like someone I know who cooks a lot, but over-caters massively and then just chucks stuff in the bin (a long-lost Presbytarian gene means I am morally outraged by this). But it’s not that hard.

If you want to waste less, you need to be mindful right from the start. You need to plan meals to a certain extent, you need to shop with purpose and cook with efficiency. That means, when you get excited by seeing huge bunches of cavolo nero at the shops for $2.50, you need to think on your feet about what you’re going to do with it. In this case, I let it sit in the fridge for a few days, waiting for inspiration to strike. We have a small, ill-designed fridge and it’s fundamentally unsuited to having lots of stuff in it. So, when I realised the cavolo nero was balanced on Sunday night’s leftover roast chicken, something stirred in my brain.

The chicken, stripped of fat and skin, went in the pot, with an onion, a carrot and some limp celery. I covered it with water and an hour or so later, I had a vat of delicious stock. I sauted the rest of the celery, another onion and some garlic in a bit of oil leftover from a jar of sundried tomatoes, added a bowl of cooked quinoa from the fridge, a kumara from the cupboard and the cavolo nero. The stock went in, along with some herbs from the garden and before long ‘nothing’ had turned into soup. We ate half of it on the spot, and the rest went in the freezer. Not complicated, not costly, not wasteful. Why is this stuff dressed up to be difficult?

What’s your favourite way to combat food waste?

Lemon verbena syrup + an elegant fruit salad

Four years ago, not long after my mother died, someone I didn’t know very well left a lemon verbena tree on our doorstep. I found this gesture incredibly touching and kind, not least because my parents’ garden had a huge lemon verbena tree and Mum often made tea from the leaves. I’m not sure if I ever properly thanked her – but Kate, if you’re reading this, I often think of that kindness when I walk past the tree.

The tree has thrived, despite my neglect, but I seldom do anything with the leaves except for the occasional cup of tea. Then, while pottering around in the kitchen a week or so ago, I made this syrup and the whole house smelled like lemon verbena. It was gorgeous.

If you’ve got a lemon verbena tree, make this syrup now to get a dose of that intense lemony sherbet flavour in the depths of winter (or scent your house with it in summer). You can use it in drinks (nice with soda, or with very cold vodka as a kind of martini-ish number), or pour it over vanilla ice cream, or use it in this simple and elegant fruit salad (recipe follows). I’m thinking a lemon verbena sorbet could be next…

Lemon Verbena Syrup

1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 packed cup lemon verbena leaves

Put the water and sugar in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then lower the heat and add the lemon verbena. Let bubble gently for five minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the syrup has cooled completely, strain it through a fine sieve into a sterilised bottle or jar. Discard the lemon verbena leaves or use them as a garnish (they will be almost candied). Makes about 1/2 cup.

Simple fruit salad with lemon verbena syrup
2 white-flesh peaches
2 apricots
2 dark-fleshed plums
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or boysenberries)
1/4 cup lemon verbena syrup

Cut all the stonefruit into slim wedges – about eight slices – and put in a bowl. Pour over the syrup and stir gently, then add the berries. This can be done in advance, but I think it’s nicest at room temperature rather than fridge-cold. Serves 4-6.

Spiced Apple Granola

I don’t mean to sound like one of those smug types who do everything but knit their own organic toilet paper,  but I am morally opposed to buying muesli or granola. Not only are they eyewateringly expensive, they’re always packed with sugar and somehow you end up with a nasty sort of dust in the bottom of the packet that looks suspiciously like sweepings from the factory floor.
Here’s my latest version, invented to use up some leftover apple juice. I’ve become addicted to sprinkling allspice on my porridge and so it has found its way into this as well.

Spiced Apple Granola
You’ll have to excuse my slightly vague measurements here – I make this by eye, judging on how much will fit in a roasting dish (which is conveniently about the same amount as will fit in the former gherkin jar that I store it in). Feel free to vary the nuts, seeds and fruit to suit your pantry and personal taste, but make sure you have a good proportion of these additions to oats or this granola will seem more like a punishment than a delicious breakfast. And don’t add poppy seeds – you’ll spend the whole day wondering if you’ve got one stuck in your teeth.

6 cups whole oats
3/4 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup linseeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped (peanuts are a good standby for those weeks when money is too tight to mention)
1Tbsp ground allspice
1Tbsp ground cinnamon
4Tbsp honey (or golden syrup, or date syrup, or brown sugar)
3/4 – 1 cup apple juice
4Tbsp sunflower oil
Dried fruit – chopped dates, sultanas, raisins, chopped apricots – about 2 cups

Preheat the oven to 170C. Tip all the dry ingredients (except the fruit) into a large bowl and mix well. Mix the honey, apple juice and oil together and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix well with your hands. Add a little more apple juice (or a splash of water) if it seems very dry. You want it to be glossy, not wet. Tip into a large roasting dish (use two dishes if necessary). Put in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes, until golden. Don’t wander away – you need to stir it every 10 minutes or so. I frequently forget about mine and burn it, which is horribly frustrating. When it’s an even golden brown, remove from the oven and tip back into the original bowl. Stir through the fruit. Pour into an airtight container – like an empty gherkin jar – when cold.

Have a sweet weekend, everyone!