What to Cook – When the snow arrives

It’s snowing as I write this. In truth, not here, although we have had a light flurry this morning, but across parts of the north and west, and there’s more to come.

I’m fizzing with excitement. It seems like the last few Christmases it’s been too mild, too grey, too meh, to really feel the magic. Indeed, some places seeing snow right now haven’t had a flake for two years, and even then it mostly came in the latter part of winter. But this year, we’re in our third cold snap of the Christmas run-up, and it’s only the end of the first week of December.

I was in the papers this week telling people to get their bread and milk in. I wasn’t being facetious: Sunday looks very interesting. Rain pushing into from the west hits cold air… The result? Snow. There are weather warnings in force through the day. But where (and when) could change (although I’m in the warning area). So I’m stocking up. Friday is food-shopping day, and at the weekend I can stay in and snuggle up if I need.

I’ve tried not to do too many stews so far in these weekend menus, but if ever there was a time for one, this is it. And not just any stew, a proper Hungarian Goulash. And, I’m going to double the recipe and freeze half so that I can smugly whip it out on a day when it’s all just too much between Christmas and New Year.

Saturday:

The weather – Freezing cold start, plenty of sunshine but further snow showers to the north and west and potentially down east coasts. Temperatures struggling up to 2 or 3 Celsius.

Breakfast: Croque Madame Muffins

Dinner: Sea Bass with Thai flavours

Sunday:

The weather – A band of rain, turning to sleet and snow on its front edge, pushing in from the west. Between 10 and 20cm of snow in some places where Met Office weather warnings have been issued. At the same time, strong winds tracking across counties south of the M4 corridor. Dry and bright elsewhere.

Breakfast: Cinnamon Rolls

Late lunch: Hungarian Goulash

Supper: Winter Salad

The plan:

Saturday:

Did you ever watch the Little Paris Kitchen with Rachel Khoo? She was cute. Kooky. A great cook. And for some reason I found her intensely annoying. I feel bad for admitting it – “She speaks highly of you Sara” – but I’m also glad to get it off my chest. However, she cooked well and simply and I absolutely love her Croque Madame Muffins. They’re neither difficult nor time consuming and they can be portable, which is excellent news in my house on a Saturday morning when I’m screaming: “Get in the car, get IN THE CAR” to all those involved in various extra-curricular activities.

There isn’t a written version of this recipe anywhere (except an expensive cookbook) but there is this YouTube video. Essentially, cut the crusts off some bread, brush them with melted butter and fold them into a muffin pan (in the same shape as the paper that covers a muffin in coffee shops). Add some ham (or cooked bacon) to the bottom of the bread cup, crack in an egg, cover with some mustard bechamel (if you can be bothered) and grate on some strong cheese. Pop them into the oven for 15mins at 180C. If you are going to take them on the road then give them an extra 5 mins’ cooking time to harden up the yolks.

For dinner, I wanted something light (before the gluttony of tomorrow) and I try to feed my children fish once a week. Sea bass is robust enough to stand some strong, hot flavours, and I like it slightly Asian, so depending on my mood I’ll either steam the fish in parcels, along the lines of Jamie’s Thai Sea Bass, or pan-fry it to get the crispy skin (don’t forget to go in skin first and hold the fish for a few seconds when you first put it in the pan to stop the edges curling up) with ginger and chillies, akin to this Good Food Guide recipe, and serve with steamed rice.

Sunday:

There’s a recipe here that involves yeast. And as we know, anything that involves yeast involves time and pre-planning. But don’t let that stop you, because the smell of cinnamon rolls in a house at Christmas is pure heaven. I first made these living as an ex-pat in Brussels when some American friends and I were longing for the easy cinnamon rolls you break out of a refrigerator tube and throw into the oven. When I visit my parents in the US, the easy-bake cinnamon rolls are always the first breakfast. I have spent hours wondering why we can’t get them in the UK, even now, in 2017. I could ask Alexa I suppose. She seems to know everything else.

But we don’t have the ready ones here (and those Jus-Roll ones are nothing like the same so don’t waste your time), so we’re making them. We’re setting the alarm. We’re getting up. We’re all in it together. Tweet me @weathertrending if you’re up at the crack of proving dough on Sunday morning. We’ll have a coffee together.

I like to get everything measured out the night before. Then I can just throw the ingredients together in seconds to make the dough. The first rise is 1 and a half hours. If I’ve got up in plenty of time, I’ll give them a second proving for half an hour in the tin after I’ve rolled, cut and shaped them. If I haven’t they’ll go straight into the oven. They bake for 30mins. So the maths whizzes among you have spotted we’re up to about three hours of time to make these. But getting up (briefly – you could go back to bed) at 7 in order to have heaven on a plate at 10 seems a worthwhile investment to me. Plenty of recipes out there, but this is a great one. Do not be tempted to skimp at the cinnamon and butter filling stage. I have in the past, and regretted it. I would halve the icing recipe though. In my experience, the American recipes are too heavy on the sweetness and the rolls just don’t need all this icing.

Like many colleagues who work in tv, I actually watch very little. Masterchef is the one exception. I love it. But every year I mock the year’s “it” ingredient. The one you’d never heard of until it’s suddenly in every dish. A few years ago it was yuzu. Yuzu everywhere. Yuzu-glazed vegetables and meats, yuzu-flavoured panna-cottas, all desserts scattered with a yuzu snow. I bet we top cinnamon rolls with it soon. Even Ocado now sells it.

I digress. But I remember distinctly the year we went from “paprika” to “smoked paprika”. Suddenly that old paprika jar in the cupboard looked old-fashioned, something your mum used in the 70s, from an era of new Tupperware. What you wanted was the sexy red tin. Nothing else would do.

But now we’re on the horns of a dilemma when it comes to Hungarian Goulash. To smoke or not to smoke? The paprika makes the goulash. That we know. There’s a world of difference between smoked and unsmoked paprika – that we’re told. So which one? I don’t honestly think it makes that much difference. Use what you’ve got. Adjust to taste. If it’s not spicy enough, add in some cayenne pepper (now there’s an ingredient just begging for a comeback). Always, always swirl in sour cream at the end. And serve with buttery noodles. So many goulash recipes, I’ve picked one, but since I’ve never made goulash the same way twice and it’s always delicious, I’d say just use it as guide.

There’s a misconception that salads are only for summer. But for me, if you’ve had a substantial hot meal earlier in the day, you can go to bed feeling lighter and easier on a salad, even in the depths of winter. Delicious magazine has a slew of recipes – check them out – one a week would get you through the season.