Rain, storms and general greyness can make getting outdoors less than appealing.
However, brave the colder days (or go foraging when the weather’s bright and stock up your freezer) and autumn offers rewards. Try one of these seasonal comfort foods to keep you warm as the nights grow cold.
Soup is the ultimate leftovers meal. I have two basic soups:
Fry onions, carrots, celery. Add vegetables and stock. Simmer. Blitz with hand blender for a thick soup or leave it as it is if you prefer more of a broth.
Add in any suitable scraps, from chopped ham or chicken scraps if you eat meat, to the last few frozen peas, half used tins of sweetcorn or dried up cheese rinds. Baked beans can thicken a soup too but you need to blend them to hide their provenance. Cold rice or pasta can also be added at the end (though be very careful when re-using rice as it can be extremely dangerous if it goes off, even if you heat it).
Fry tomato puree until it goes dark red and garlic puree until golden. Add celery, carrots, onions and vegetables and fry until they darken, deglazing with any leftover wine or apple juice that’s starting to ferment (particularly good with parsnip soup).
Let the wine/juice bubble away then add a tin of tomatoes, two tins of water, a stock cube and anything suitable from the fridge.
Simmer until it is dark red and smells tasty. Taste and season accordingly (I often use miso or parmesan, not just salt, to add depth of flavour).
Fresh herbs lift both types of soup.
Throw in pasta, gnocchi, chickpeas or lentils for a more filling soup. Add potatoes and blend to thicken or leave in chunks for more of a stew.
Treat your soup base as something to play with – while emptying the fridge.
If you don’t have onions, use more garlic puree. If you don’t have celery, use different aromatics. Spices can turn tomato soup into a coriander-heavy chilli soup, a basil and mozzarella rich soup, or any number of Indian-spiced delights.
If you have a tiny bit of milk or yogurt, you can add that. Limp leaves can be finely chopped and mixed through. Soup offers comfort but can also help you live a more minimal waste lifestyle.
Top with croutons, grated cheese, yogurt, herbs or cheese fingers (a great way to use up pasty scraps – cut into shapes or strips, sprinkle with cheese and/or poppy seeds and bake when you bake whatever the scraps are from. Store in a biscuit tin).
Team your soup with home made scones, oat cakes or bread for the ultimate comfort (and a great smelling home).
Everyone has their own favourite crumble – and method to make it. I like the classic butter/flour/sugar topping but will use toasted oats sprinkled with sugar for a fast gluten-free option, sometimes adding almond flour or other chopped/powdered nuts.
For fillings, blackberry and apple is my ultimate crumble but these are also tasty:
- Pear and stem ginger (plant your own from a nobble of ginger and cook it in sugar syrup; use leftovers from Christmas hampers; or cheat and throw in a crushed ginger ice cube with a bit of extra sugar).
- Plum and crabapple.
- Apple and elderberry.
- Apple and hawthorn.
- Apple and strawberry (if you have leftover jam)
- Apple and raspberry.
- Damson and apple.
- Rhubarb and marmalade.
All of these are in season (check whether you have a community allotment if you’re short on cash for fruit and veg) or available to forage.
As a tasty alternative to crumble, top with a basic cake mix (equal weights of eggs, flour, sugar and butter, with the latter creamed and eggs/flour folded through), bake until the cake rises and enjoy a self-saucing pudding (turn the cake out to serve pudding-style or serve upright with berries on the side if you want it to look a little more elegant). You can top a can of pineapple rings in syrup with this mix for a tasty upside-down cake too. Making these in individual ramekins is another dinner party option.
Serve with yogurt, ice cream, custard cream or clotted cream for a real treat.
I am glad I offered to make a gluten free birthday cake for a friend as it led me to discover almond brownies.
Just replace flour with almond flour in your favourite brownie recipe to create a rich, satisfying, crisp-edged and gooey treat.
I buy almond flour on 2-4-1 deals and use cheap dark chocolate. I have used top end chocolate for special occasions but it can be expensive for a large cake.
Turn this into an impressive looking pudding by adding a thinned marmalade sauce or autumn fruit coulis and decorating with home made candied peel or edible flowers. I love it with clotted cream. An Espresso Martini is the ideal way to cut through the sweetness (or coffee, if you don’t drink).
A Herbal Bath
If comfort food isn’t working for you, try a hot bath. Cinnamon, ginger and black pepper oils can all be warming. For me, orange, cinnamon and cedarwood is an incredibly festive smell; wintergreen, frankincense and sandalwood are lovely after gardening, particularly if I’ve got any aches and pains; and lavender, rosemary and peppermint is a blend I find great after a long day in front of a computer. However, different people find different oils comforting so pick ones that smell right to you.
Add a few drops of each oil you choose (a maximum of three is recommended) to a 50/50 mixture of oats and sea salt, chop any fresh herbs you have that appeal (another good way to use up the ends of packets of herbs: thyme, sage and rosemary are all lovely in baths), then put the mix in a square of cotton and tie with a ribbon or cotton to make your bath water silky and skin-softening. You can also use the toe of an old (clean!) pair of tights to put your oat mix in.
Drop the bundle in the bath as it’s running, then squeeze it to release the oat milk and rub it over your skin (but make sure you aren’t sensitive to the oils first, and don’t use too much as it can cause irritation.) If you have sensitive skin, omit the oils. The oats and salt are lovely on their own. You can also use a plain oat/salt blend as a shaving cream alternative – I find it helps the razor glide over my skin as easily as any heavily-packaged shaving foam.
Add mint tea or wine, candle light – and ear plugs, if necessary, to drown out any noise from outside – lie back, and let the fresh aromas of nature soothe your senses.