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I'm always thinking about food. In winter I think about what will tempt me into the kitchen and stave off the cold nights. I think about dishes hearty enough to last me from lunch throughout the afternoon. I want tastes that fight off the cold, tastes that are bold enough to fill me with warmth and hope.
There is plenty to excite a cook in winter. All of the root vegetables are in good shape and supply.
Cabbages, kale and watercress are so full of green heartiness that you feel the good they give as you eat them.
Apples and pears abound, so crumbles and pies with caramel and cream are easy pickings for pudding.
Winter is also the time to celebrate shellfish, mussels are at their plumpest and most flavoursome right now. They are nature's fast food, ready in a flash; they can be cooked with white wine or cider. Otherwise, for the clearest taste of the sea, simply in water. Flavour them with ginger, chilli and lime for a light and invigorating bowlful. Or toss them through a plate of pasta with thyme and cream for something more substantial. Just the scent of these beauties is enough to get the juices flowing.
Mussels with chilli and saffron A big bowl of steaming fresh mussels, smacking of the sea, makes a quick and quite wonderful meal. If it is a creamier broth you are after, simply add a small pot of double cream once the mussels are open and stir in just enough to warm it through.
Just be as bold as the flavours that you find, let the tastes and scents of winter warm you all the way from kitchen to table to the first day of spring
You need (serves 4) 2kg live mussels 200ml dry white wine 4 tblspns extra virgin olive oil 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped A large pinch of saffron (optional) 1 small dried chilli, finely ground 1 bunch of chives, finely sliced Four large slices of baguette, toasted Method First remove the beards from the mussels by pulling the hairy part towards the fat end of the shells, then pulling it out. If any of the mussels are wide open, give them a good tap and, if they don't close of their own accord, throw them away.
Rinse the mussels well and store beneath a wet tea towel until you need them.
In a large shallow pan, boil the white wine together with the olive oil, garlic, saffron (if using) and chilli for a few minutes until they begin to emulsify.
Add the mussels, cover the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes over as high a heat as possible, stirring the mussels once or twice so that they open evenly. Discard any mussels that don't open.
Place the slices of baguette into four large bowls.
Once the mussels are open, add the sliced chives and spoon the mussels and cooking juices over the top.
Oxford Isis Tartiflette This is the most wonderful winter meal. There is a saying in the French Alps "In Tartiflette we trust", and this is a dish to warm and revitalise the most exhausted of skiers, or anyone after a long day's work.
Potatoes and cream are a luxurious combination, made irresistible by the tangy cheese melting over the top.
The Tartiflette can be prepared at least 12 hours in advance up to the point of baking. You will need a 30x25cm/12x10in gratin dish.
You need (serves four) 1.25kg/21lb 12ozs medium Desiree potatoes, peeled 12 slices of streaky bacon, cut into chunks 2tblspns vegetable oil Five small firm onions, peeled and finely sliced 200ml dry white wine 300g crème fraiche Two small Oxford Isis cheeses Salt, pepper and fresh nutmeg Method Preheat oven to 200?C.
Simmer the potatoes in salted water until soft, but not breaking up. Strain into a colander and leave to cool a little. While the potatoes are cooking, heat a large shallow pan with the vegetable oil and fry the bacon for three minutes until the fat starts to run. Add the onions, cover and sweat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally until soft. Turn up the heat and cook, stirring constantly for five minutes or until golden, drain on absorbent paper.
Cover the bottom of a gratin dish with half of the potatoes and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Spread the onion and bacon mixture over the top and follow with the second half of the potatoes.
Pour in the white wine and spread over the crème fraiche.
Slice each Oxford Isis in half through the centre then place the four pieces of cheese, crust side up, over the top.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbling and golden.