It's hard enough to get into the right frame of mind for going back to work after Christmas, but the January weather makes it worse. Snow days, icy windscreens, wind, rain and mud all conspire to make the business of trying to earn a crust seem nigh on impossible.
Time to think about warmer climes, spicier flavours - and to use up some of those storecupboard ingredients bought in for Christmas that really shouldn't languish there until the Christmas decorations go back up in 2013.
I'm talking about dates, nuts, dried fruits, mulled wine spices- ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.
So, today's three course meal looks to North Africa for it's inspiration: roasted pepper hummus with flatbreads to start, lamb tagine with couscous for main course, and pears poached in mulled wine for pudding.
For the flatbreads, I used half a packet of bread mix from my storecupboard (125g mixed with 175ml of warm water.) You could use bread flour with a sachet of yeast in warm water or self raising flour with 1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder, a tablespoon of olive oil and 125ml of milk.
If using yeast, the dough needs to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours.
When double in size, knock back and roll out into circles ( saucer sized or plate sized as you wish).
Brush a pan lightly with olive oil and fry gently on one side. As they start to puff up, press them down gently with a clean tea towel. Turn them over and brown on the other side.
|Carrot and nut salad|
Next- the lamb tagine.
Spring lamb is not yet in season, but it is best to buy tougher cuts of mutton (which is in season) anyway for this dish. I used neck fillet, but you can use boned shoulder or knuckle.
First make your spice mix- 1 tsp of minced garlic, 2 tsps of ground ginger, 1 tsp of cinammon, 1 tsp of turmeric, a pinch of saffron soaked in an egg cup of warm water, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp mild chilli powder and a good grating of nutmeg.
Mix to a paste with the juice of half a lemon (the other half of the one you used for the hummus) and a tablespoon of olive oil.
You will need about 100g of lamb per person- cut into cubes and then coated in the paste. Leave to marinade for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.
Fry one onion, finely chopped in some olive oil, then fry the meat and add a handful each of apricots, dates and sultanas to the pan. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and the residue from the marinade bowl rinsed out with a cup of water, along with a teaspoon of honey to sweeten.
I cook mine in a slow cooker (but of course you could use a tagine pot if you have one, or a casserole dish in the oven.)
|Lamb Tagine with Couscous|
The dish takes about 7 hours to cook in a slow cooker - until the lamb is tender.
Serve with couscous and a drizzle of natural yoghurt if you like that.
For dessert, I poached some pears in a cupful of red vermouth (but red wine with a little vanilla sugar added is fine), with a good grating of nutmeg and a teaspoon of mixed spice.
Poach until the pears are tender and have taken on the pink colour of the wine or vermouth.
|Pear in Mulled Wine|
|Beans means Tagines!|
It would have been good as well with a slice of garlic bread to make Posh Beans on Toast.
Any leftover couscous can be made into a tabbouleh with parsley, mint, tomatoes and cucumber, and the hummus makes a tasty addition to my lunch box during the week.
The flatbreads freeze well- and make easy pizza bases for another meal.
Even the leftover fruit syrup from the pears can be used again (if there was any left) in a fresh fruit salad the next day.
I hope this trip to North Africa and the Middle East helps lift the winter gloom- there's lots to look forward to in the next few weeks- Pancake Day, Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day.
I haven't decided where in the world I'm going next week.