Every year I moot the idea of moving the New Year celebration to the start of spring which just seems a more natural home for new beginnings, rather than this no man’s land of the deep midwinter. Those fine resolutions we make don’t stand a proper chance in a bleak January and only the fittest and most well thought out will survive. By the middle of the first month most good intentions are lying frayed and shattered around our ankles while we wear that uneasy and very uncomfortable mantle of failure.
For me January is not about leaping off into a New Year with gusto and high aspirations. January is instead a time of thoughtful reflection, careful planning and looking forward to the start of the new upcoming season of rebirth; the spring, then I will really take action. January is about preparation, baby steps and trying out a few things that I might like to change in the coming year without a big noisy declaration of change. I also think that small adjustments and changes that perhaps don’t come with the fanfare of the bigger resolutions will get you further in the long run.
To that end I want to encourage everyone to change things up a little this month and cook with fresh and, where possible, local ingredients; real fruit and vegetables, raw meat, local cheeses and breads, homemade pickles and preserves. We have become slaves to convenience and have largely forgotten the simple therapeutic value of standing and peeling a carrot for the pot. The joy of cooking and preparing a simple home cooked meal has been lost in the fug of celebrity cooking shows. They often subliminally suggest that unless you have a state of the art kitchen, access to the Queen’s greengrocer and loads of friends that are continuously coming around to your house for food, then there’s not much point in doing anything other than bunging something in the microwave because it’s easy or opening another jar of ‘Hot Something Tonight’ sauce to pour over the dried up meat you’ve begrudgingly cooked.
I also think the New Year as it is calls for simplicity. The over indulgence and frothy frills of calorie laden Christmas delights always leave me hankering after stews and mash, bacon and cabbage or even light fish dishes. Just because they are considered ordinary doesn’t mean that we can’t elevate them to the extraordinary. Great quality beef, fresh vegetables, good quality stock and a homemade bouquet garni can make a simple casserole or stew into a dish fit for any established restaurant. Take any recipe and substitute in local, fresh ingredients and you will be quite surprised at the difference in the end result.
With the year and the weather quite fresh and the stale Christmas decorations down and giving way to a mini spring clean in most houses, it is a great time to dust off the cookery books and add some new recipes to the repertoire. I also think it is a good time for a store cupboard clearout. My family often enjoy the exotic around this time of year as I try to use up various herbs and spices that would otherwise spoil.
With sales everywhere it is a great time to invest in any kitchen equipment or tools that have been on your list. The slow cooker seems to be the gadget of the moment. The old fashioned crock pot or electric pot seems to be enjoying a renaissance this year. Obviously you need to be an organised soul to get the best out of a slow cooker, but once you get the hang of preparing a meal the night before or early in the morning you might enjoy the ease of work come dinner time. Slow cooking is also considered very healthy. Speaking of trying new ways of cooking another small change would be to try steaming rather than boiling or roasting vegetables.
Staying with a fresh theme is also about staying as closely as possible within the season. While we might be packing a few extra pounds after the festive excess, it is still winter and our food should be nourishing, warming and restorative. Chicken and beef broths with carrots, onions and celery served with chunks of warmed or toasted door steps of bread or hearty roasts of all kinds are always welcome. Sausages, pates, baked hams and smoked fish are good and make delightful additions and quick meals. Dried fruits and nuts are always in abundance at this time of year and it’s a great time for making your own marmalade with the influx of citrus fruits from Spain. There are still some fresh cranberries kicking around also, so grab them while you can for preserving and juicing.
Using fresh ingredients does not have to mean hardship or labour. Drop by the James Whelan Butchers website where there are videos, recipes and other sources of inspiration to get 2012 off to a great fresh start. Happy New Year.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers