Goodness, it’s dark. The winter solstice was yesterday so I really shouldn’t be surprised by this lack of light. And yet, I am. There’s something deeper to the darkness this year. The short December days have been covered by heavy, grey skies – no sparkling frosts or colourful sunsets to brighten the beginning and end of the daylight hours. And we’ve had much, much more rain than Inverness is used to. It’s all been a bit driech, really.
The upside of this crappy weather and lack of light is that I feel entirely justified in entering hibernation mode. And, after the wonderful insanity that has been this year (new job, marathon, wedding, travels to Asia and the USA…), hibernation mode is just what I need. I’ve spent most of today curled up on the sofa with my book and Marco snoozing by my side. There’s bread baking in the oven and the fairy lights are on. I might have a hot bath later and after that a glass or two of red wine. Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow is looking like more of the same. Bliss.
The following is a perfect meal for such days. It’s hearty and comforting and super simple to make. Just the thing for a dark December night.
Tomato & Rosemary Sausage Bake
6 herby pork sausages
500g cherry tomatoes
250g plum tomatoes, halved
2 sprigs of rosemary
1/2 tspn dried thyme
2 garlic clove, crushed
1 tblspn balsalmic vinegar
1 tblspn olive oil
Salt & pepper
- Heat oven to 180 oC.
- Prick the sausages and add them to a casserole dish along with the tomatoes, herbs and garlic. Drizzle over the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and a larger pinch of pepper then use your hands to mix all the ingredients together.
- Tuck the sausages underneath the tomatoes and bake for 30 minutes (this stops the sausages browning too soon). After 30 mins, use tongs to place the sausages on top of the tomatoes. Bake for another 30 mins.
- Remove from the oven and serve the beautifully browned sausages and rich tomato & herb sauce with mashed potatoes and green beans.
A bright but blustery Sunday morning has turned into a rather dark, threatening afternoon. Icy plops of rain are falling and the bare birch trees across the road are swaying in an increasingly strong wind. I don’t mind though. Marco’s been walked and I’ve already been for a run. There’s nothing I need do other than read my book (The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler), drink peppermint tea and make soup for the week ahead. Nice.
Today’s soup will be a wintery minestrone (this one). More often than not, however, I’ve been making the below soup. It’s David’s current favourite. He likes his soups hearty and, in this weather, so do I.
Chorizo, Spinach and Chickpea Soup
150g chorizo, skinned and chopped into small cubes
2 celery sticks, chopped finely
2 onions, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tspn smoked paprika
½ tspn cayenne pepper (optional – really not necessary if your paprika is spicy)
½ cup brown rice
400g tin of chickpeas, drained
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
500g frozen, chopped spinach (Whole leaf is fine too but it will need to be defrosted then chopped finely first. Fresh spinach should be chopped finely first too.)
1.5 litres of stock (ham for preference but vegetable or chicken is fine too)
- Add a splash of olive oil to a large pan. Throw in the chorizo and cook over a medium heat until the chorizo releases its fat. Add the onion and celery and cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the garlic and smoked paprika. Cook for a couple more minutes then add the chickpeas and brown rice. Stir well.
- Finally, add the tomatoes, spinach and stock. Simmer gently for an hour then taste for seasoning. It’s unlikely to need salt but a grinding of pepper would be good.
There’s a Scottish saying: Ne’er cast a clout till May is oot. It means don’t pack away your winter clothing until the end of May. The following pictures show why this is sound advice in these parts…
Last Tuesday. 22 oC. Sunny. Still.
This Tuesday. 0 oC. Snowy. Windy.
Marco’s happy, at least. He loves the snow. 🙂
The days are starting to stretch and we have snowdrops under our birch tree. I bought a bunch of daffodils at the supermarket last weekend and there’s a cherry tree down our road that has a few blossoms on it. I’m not saying Spring is here or even that it’s on its way, but I am slowly starting to remember what spring is like and that’s really rather nice indeed.
All this said, it was -5 oC this morning and my fingers almost dropped off scraping frost off the car. Soup season is most definitely still here. This one’s a cracker. 🙂
Smokey Tomato & Rice Soup
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
4 plump garlic cloves, finely chopped
25g red lentils
1 tspn smoked paprika (you may need to increase this if your smoked paprika isn’t really smokey)
1 tspn paprika
1 tpsn cumin
½ tspn cayenne pepper or chilli powder (if your smoked paprika is hot you won’t need this – taste the spices)
500g passata (sieved tomatoes – you could use normal tinned tomatoes but the consistency will be less velvety)
1.5 ltr chicken or vegetable stock (made from a cube is fine)
150g frozen sweetcorn
- Heat a good splash of olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion and celery and fry gently until softened (about 10 mins). Add the garlic and spices to the pan and stir well.
- Cook for another minute before adding the rice, lentils, passata and stock. Simmer gently for 20 mins. Add the sweetcorn and cook for a futher 10 mins until the rice and lentils are soft.
- Season and serve.