Frosty days ahead – what to cook to warm up this weekend

With a cold, frosty weekend approaching, Sara designs a menu to heat you from the inside, with a mix of gentle, warming spices.

For me, nothing is so inextricably linked with the weather than the food I eat, and perhaps more importantly, the food I serve to my family. Although I mourn the days when my babies were babies, the permanently ravenous teenagers that now slouch before me afford me the opportunity to cook pretty much anything I desire based on the weather that approaches. Except offal. Still. A battle for another day.

Having not had much long-lasting cold weather so far this autumn, I haven’t yet kicked myself into gear with my “hunker down” mentality of stockpiling all the ingredients I’ll need for a full weekend’s feasting. But as this weekend approaches, with its frosty outlook, I’ve taken myself in hand and made a plan. It’s a strategy based on the premise of little jaunts out of the house, made almost exclusively with the promise that we can be home again within a couple of hours, cold-nosed and starving, yearning for comforting food to warm us from within.

So, here’s my plan for weekend Nov 11/12…

The Weather – cloud and rain in the south clearing away, becoming brighter from the north, cold northerly wind with showers, possibly wintry over hills, in Scotland and Wales. Temps starting in low teens in the south but falling away through the morning. Afternoon typically 8-11C.

Breakfast: Porridge with plum compote
Lunch: Croque Monsieur
Supper: Chicken Pot Pies

The Weather – chilly, frosty start then sunny and cold for most. Cold northerly wind, some wintry showers on eastern coasts, especially further north. Temperatures 6-9C.

Breakfast: Waffles with blueberries, bacon and maple syrup
Late lunch: Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup
Afternoon tea: Parkin

Shopping list (assuming a well stocked pantry):
Two large chickens – on sale at Tesco for an amazing £2.25 through this weekend: (
Gruyère or Emmenthal cheese
Good quality ham
Fresh chillies
Ready rolled pastry

It’s a strategy based on the premise of little jaunts out of the house made almost exclusively with the promise that we can be home again within a couple of hours, cold-nosed and starving, yearning for comforting food to warm us from within.


The plan:

Saturday morning is set to dawn grey and wet with the leftovers of a tropical system above where I live. Miserable. So the first thing I’ll do when I go into the kitchen is to throw my chickens into the oven, glistening with a smear of olive oil and seasoned well. Then it’s on to breakfast.

First to cut up some plums and throw them into a pan with butter, brown sugar and spices: star anise, ginger and cinnamon. Let them cook down for 10 or 15 minutes while getting on with making some porridge. One member of the family makes a glutinous, grey stodge in the microwave. This is not porridge as I know it, I’ll slowly cook it on the hob with milk and water. When the plums are soft and squidgy, remove them and reduce the cooking liquor. Serve the porridge with the plums and sauce.

The chickens aren’t quite ready so I might as well get my ducks in a row with the Croque Monsieur lunch while they’re finishing off. The bechamel sauce is the key here, and can be made ahead of time. Bon Appetite’s recipe is nice and simple (see here), but don’t forget to put a paper lid on the top of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming.

The chickens are finished, and the house smells wonderful. It will be just a few minutes’ work to assemble individual Chicken Pot Pies later this evening, I make them with my eyes shut, but don’t want another roux-based sauce after the Croque Monsieurs, so will fashion mine after a Martha Stewart recipe which uses stock only (here).

Sunday morning is particularly cold, so it’s thermals and waffles for all. I am lucky enough to have a waffle maker, and far from being a bit of unloved, untouched kitchen detritus, it is more than likely to expire from overuse. The children demand the waffles; fluffy, piping hot, covered with blueberries, bacon and maple syrup. Who am I to refuse? My favourite, and easiest recipe, comes from the US site All Recipes, beloved by me for the use of cups rather than weighing scales (here).

I’m being dragged/am doing the dragging out for a family tramp across the frosty fields. But before I go, I’m sweating down the mirepoix for the Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup for when we get back. There are hundreds of recipes out there, but The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, has one of the best (here she is!), which I adapt by adding the killer ingredient of a tin of sweetcorn. If you have never added tortilla strips to a soup, this will rock your world. Thank me (or Ina) later. The warmth from the chillies and the heartiness of the soup, using the second of the roast chickens, will soothe the soul in ways you can’t yet imagine.

Post-lunch, a bit of gentle kitchen pottering is worth the effort in order to make the house smell like heaven. It’s the baking of Yorkshire Parkin (or Lancashire – you decide) that will invade the nooks and crannies of the house with a warm, gingery glow. So many recipes. Most northern grannies have one, but the glorious Felicity Cloake has done all the hard work so you don’t have to (here), which she published last week. I have already tried it and if, like me, you like it to really sing, I’d add a bit more ginger (mine’s a bit old so has probably lost some pungency, but I used 4 teaspoons). All up, it took me 20 mins to get the cake into the oven. I’ll serve it warm with whipped cream.

So there you have it. A warming weekend menu for when it feels like winter is just around the corner. What’s your favourite thing to cook when it’s cold?