The Darina Allen Column

 Darina shares ten resolutions for 2023 that can make a real difference to our health and wellbeing, to supporting local businesses - and to the planet. And they’re all very do-able.

In 2023, we can no longer pretend that we don't know the damage ultra-processed food is doing to our health. The research is there so this year let's heed it and invest in fresh, chemical free seasonal food, chock-full of vitamins and minerals to nourish the family rather than damage their health.

1. Let's spend as much as we can afford on wholesome food rather than having to spend it later on meds and bottles of pills. This will be the year when we resolve to eliminate ultra-processed food completely from our family diet.
2. Try to get to your local Farmers’ Market once a week. It's a completely different and infinitely more satisfying way of shopping. You can buy directly from the farmer or food producers. That way you know the source of your food and all the money (rather than less than one-third) goes directly to the farmer to enable them to continue to produce this fresh food for your local community. If there is no Farmers Market close by, why not think about starting one with a group of friends....
3. Alternatively, check out NeighbourFood, the online Farmers' Market. Every week they have a selection of hundreds of local foods to choose from ... seasonal fruit and vegetables, farmhouse cheese, pickles, preserves, home baking, heritage meat and free-range poultry, natural wine, cider and maybe even juices and cocktails...Order, pay and collect...
4. Agree a time when everyone will get together around the table to enjoy a kitchen supper at least three nights a week. Sitting down is not just about eating, it's about children having fun, learning table manners, how to share, exchange views and banter. Even if they are only arguing, it keeps the lines of communication open...
5. Gather all the family together, explain your plan, enlist their help... Make a rota so everyone is involved and realises that there will be a bit more work but it'll be fun and so worth the effort.
6. Strictly no phones at the table, a difficult one to enforce but resolve to stand your ground!
7. Decide to grow some of your own food in 2023, even if it's just salad leaves in a container on the windowsill or balcony. Better still make a plan with some friends to grow and share a variety of homegrown produce. Perennial vegetables like rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, Welsh onions, and kale are also brilliant to have. Chives, mint and marjoram re-emerge every year whilst hardy rosemary, sage and thyme will see you through the winter as well. Believe me, you won't want to waste a scrap after you've put all that effort into growing. It'll bring you so much joy, teach the kids a life skill and save money particularly during this cost-of-living
8. This year, let's decide to challenge ourselves to have a Zero Waste policy in our homes...once one gets onto that wavelength it becomes a game...You'll find more and more ways to repurpose all sorts of things and to use up leftovers deliciously.
9. In 2023, how about trying out one new dish every week...Lots of us get into a rut and serve the same food month in, month out. Even if it's delicious, it can get a bit boring and biodiversity of nutrients is also vitally important for our overall health. Ask for requests and suggestions and HELP...
10. Avoid low-fat or light products, they are unquestionably the biggest con of the 20th and 21st centuries yet shop shelves are still full of them. If they worked, how come obesity figures continue to rise exponentially. Believe me, they are not good for your health but have been, and continue to be, a boost for the profits of multi-national food companies – check out the research...

Here’s to a happy, healthy, fun and delicious year ahead!

Winter Vegetable and Bean Soup with Spicy Sausage
This hearty, nutritious soup is a great way to use up the contents of your fridge. We make huge pots of this in the winter, I usually keep some in the freezer. Kabanossi is a thin sausage now widely available, it gives a gutsy slightly smoky flavour to the soup which although satisfying is by no means essential - and the soup is easy to adapt for vegetarians. Serves 8 - 9

225g (8oz) rindless streaky bacon, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) lardons
2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) onions, chopped
300g (10oz) carrot, cut into 5mm (¼ inch) dice
215g (7½ oz) celery, chopped into 5mm (¼inch) dice
125g (4½ oz) parsnips, chopped into 5mm (¼ inch) dice
200g (7oz) white part of 1 leek, 5mm (¼ inch) slices thick approx.
1 Kabanossi sausage, cut into 3mm (1/8 inch) thin slices (optional)
400g (1 x 14oz) tin of tomatoes
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
1.7 litres (3 pints) good homemade chicken stock
225g (8oz) haricot beans, cooked *
2 tablespoons parsley, freshly chopped
extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Prepare the vegetables. Put the olive oil in a saucepan, add the bacon** (see note below) and sauté over a medium heat until it becomes crisp and golden, add the chopped onion, carrots and celery. Cover and sweat for five minutes, next add the parsnip and finely sliced leeks. Cover and sweat for a further 5 minutes. Slice the Kabanossi sausage thinly and add. Chop the tomatoes and add to the rest of the vegetables and the beans. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar, add the chicken stock. Allow to cook until all the vegetables are tender, 20 minutes approx. Taste and correct the seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, serve with lots of crusty bread.
* Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water. Next day, strain the beans and cover with fresh cold water, add a bouquet garni, carrot and onion, cover and simmer until the beans are soft but not mushy - anything from 30 - 60 minutes. Just before the end of cooking, add salt. Remove the bouquet garni and vegetables and discard
** If the bacon is very salty, put into a small saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Strain and dry on kitchen paper.

Leftover Pie
Leftovers can lurk in the fridge, where they may get forgotten and be wasted, so it’s worth getting into the habit of using them up quickly, while they’re fresh. Chicken and ham is ideal for this delicious pie but it can adapted for other foods – it's the most scrumptious way to use up leftovers and can be topped with fluffy mashed potatoes or a puff pastry lid and, while this big pie is ideal for using leftovers after a large gathering, the quantities can easily be adapted for smaller amounts. Serves 12

900g (2lb) cooked chicken, white and brown meat and crispy skin
450g (1lb) cooked ham or bacon
25g (1oz) butter
110g (4oz) onion, chopped
350g (12oz) leek, sliced
1 - 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (optional)
225g (8oz) flat mushrooms or button if flats are not available
1 clove of garlic, crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
900ml (1½ pints) well-flavoured chicken or better still turkey stock or 600ml (1 pint) stock and 300ml (10fl oz) gravy
150ml (5fl oz) cream
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram or tarragon, if available
roux (flour and butter blended)
900g (2lb) mashed potato 450g (1lb) puff pastry

2 x 1.2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dishes with a lip.

Cut the roast chicken and ham into 2.5cm (1 inch) approx. pieces and shred the crispy skin.
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and add the chopped onions, sliced leeks and ginger, if using. Cover and sweat for about 10 minutes, until they are soft but not coloured. Meanwhile, wash and slice the mushrooms. When the onions and leeks are soft, stir in the garlic and then remove to a plate.
Increase the heat and cook the sliced mushrooms, a few at a time. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and add to the onions and garlic. Toss the cold chicken and ham in the hot saucepan, using a little extra butter if necessary. Add to the mushrooms and onions. Deglaze the saucepan with the stock. Add the cream and chopped herbs. Bring it to the boil, thicken with roux, add the meat, mushrooms and onions and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/Gas Mark 5.
Fill into 2 x 1.2 litres (2 pint) capacity pie dishes with a lip and pipe rosettes of mashed potato all over the top (or simply fork it over). Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until the potato is golden and the pie is bubbling.
Alternatively, if you would like to have a pastry crust, allow the filling to get quite cold. Roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thickness, then cut a strip from around the edge the same width as the lip of the pie dish. Brush the edge of the dish with water and press the strip of pastry firmly down onto it, then wet the top of the strip. Cut the pastry into an oval just slightly larger than the pie dish. Press this down onto the wet border, flute the edges of the pastry with a knife and then scallop them at 2.5cm (1 inch) approx. intervals. Roll out the trimmings and cut into leaves to decorate the top. Make a hole in the centre to allow the steam to escape while cooking.
Brush with egg wash and bake in a preheated oven, 250ºC/475ºF/Gas Mark 9, for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to moderate, 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4, for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is cooked through and the pie is bubbling.
Serve with a good green salad.

Old-Fashioned Seville Orange Marmalade
Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops in early January every year and are around for just 4 - 5 weeks, so get cracking.
Makes approx. 3.2kg (7lb)
900g (2lb) of Seville oranges, organic if possible
2.3 litres (4 pints) water
1 organic lemon
1.45kg (3 1/4lb) granulated sugar

Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips and tie them in a piece of muslin. Slice the peel finely or coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.

Next day, bring everything to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours until the peel is really soft. Then cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced to between 1/3 - 1/2 of the original volume (30 minutes approx.). Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.

Add the warmed sugar and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil rapidly until setting point is reached 5-10 minutes approx. Test for a set, either with a sugar thermometer (it should register 104ºC/220ºF), or with a saucer. Put a little marmalade on a cold saucer and cool for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it's done.

Allow marmalade to sit in the saucepan for 15 minutes before bottling to prevent the peel from floating. Pot into hot sterilised jars. Cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark place.

N.B. The peel must be absolutely soft before the sugar is added, otherwise when the sugar is added it will toughen the peel and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Marmalade Oranges
Order a box or a bag of organic marmalade oranges right away...the Seville oranges are back in season and are in the shops. I adore making marmalade – I actually find all that slicing therapeutic and just love the sound and the smell of it bubbling in a pot.

Bertha's Revenge Sloe Gin
If you didn't get around to making your own sloe gin, Justin and his team at Ballyvolane House in Castlelyons in Co. Cork have been busy adding sloes to their Bertha's Revenge Gin , using sloe berries picked from the estate and surrounding areas. The berries are steeped for several months in Bertha's Revenge original milk gin with some sugar syrup added to create a smooth, sweet warming gin. It was recently a country winner for Ireland in the Sloe Gin category at the World Gin Awards 2022 I'm sitting here sipping a sparkly sloe gin and tonic in front of a fire and I like it a lot...!

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