In times of stress, what foods do you turn to? Here are AG's picks for edible hugs to get us through troublesome times...
Garry Coward-Williams, editor
As a dedicated foodie I think of all food as comfort and if I didn’t impose strict dietary rules to control my intake I would be gargantuan! During the week I live on a breakfast of porridge and for lunch a bowl of soup and that’s it.
At the weekend however, every Saturday morning I break from my controlled diet with a Bhiwani Omelette.
This scintillating culinary concoction is of my creation, but I have no idea if it is original. Essentially it is a feast of Indian spices designed to set the senses on fire, create beads of perspiration and tickle the tongue with taste.
Recipe for Bhiwani Omelette
2/3 cloves of garlic, finely-sliced
Half an onion, chopped however you like
Large piece of fresh ginger, chopped into fine cubes
2/3 red/green chillies (4 on the hot scale), not seeded and finely chopped
Handful of fresh coriander roughly chopped
Handful of frozen garden peas
Teaspoon of garam masala
Teaspoon of turmeric
Salt to taste
Dribble a little red palm fruit and rapeseed oil in a frying pan and when heated add the garlic, chillies and ginger, give them about a minute and a half and then add the onions.
Once the onions are clear add peas (some may question their inclusion, but I implore you to give peas a chance). Once the peas are heated add the garam masala, turmeric and a little sea salt. Stir and blend together, then take off heat.
Break eggs into bowl, adding a little milk to increase volume, then beat the mixture. Then add the coriander and the mixture from the frying pan and mix together. Heat a little oil in the frying pan and when ready pour the mixture in.
Then grate cheese over the top of while it’s cooking. Once the base is solid put the frying pan under a grill to finish off the cheesy topping to your taste, and there you have it… Bhiwani Omelette!
Ruth Hayes, gardening editor
Growing up, food played a large – sometimes too large – part in my life. Now you come to mention it, it still does, especially in lockdown when the evening meal is one of the rare ‘unknowns’ of the day.
I enjoy looking through the cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what lies within (we usually plan a week’s worth of meals when we shop to avoid food waste, but there’s always some room for manoeuvre).
When it comes to comfort food my needs are pretty specific. It has to involve carbs and it has to be easy to construct, which is why my go-to edible embrace when spirits are low, health is tremulous and life is generally a bit flat, is Marmite on toast.
A proprietary supermarket yeast extract is a perfectly good substitute, but it has to be on toast that has just ‘caught’ – nothing too toasted – with lashings of salted butter.
That combination of crunchy carbs with a slight hint of impending sog, luxurious salty grease and the biting tang of yeast is edible paradise.
On a normal day if I’m feeling especially decadent, I’ll add a smear of peanut butter or maybe even a slice of really bitey mature Cheddar, but when the mood is low, simplicity is key so the Marmite/yeast remains unsullied.
When I was wee, my ultimate comfort food was mum’s mashed potato and, indeed, potatoes are still a wonderful solace in troubled times. The only reason I haven’t listed them as my ‘ultimate’ cosy plateful is that they need cooking (please don’t mention ready-made mash), and speed is also of the essence when one needs an edible hug.
Wendy Humphries, letters editor
When it comes to comfort food, my choice has to be the classic cottage pie. There’s something so familiar about it, what could be better than creamy mash and thick beefy gravy, it’s become a regular favourite in our house.
Easy to make in batches and I freeze some for my elderly parents or home-alone sons looking for something quick and filling.
I always follow my mother’s recipe. The onions must be caramelised, and other essentials for flavour are thyme and a good few drops of Worcestershire sauce.
Butter is added to the mash for creaminess and the pie goes in the over for at least 40 minutes to crisp the top (I never add cheese). Either way, it’s always good with a dollop of tomato ketchup.
Les Upton, features editor
My favourite food during lockdown is cheese & onion crisps – but they have to be Walkers. Years ago I used to include these crisps as part of my lunch, but I tend not to buy them now as I know I find them addictive.
I blame the supermarket for my renewed addiction. While shopping a few weeks ago I had to queue in the supermarket for a checkout till and the queue went through the aisle with the crisps and snacks.
While standing there waiting for a free till, I noticed a family pack of Walkers cheese & onion crisps – and it found its way into my trolley! It’s been all downhill since then.
I don’t know why I prefer Walkers, but I remember doing a taste test with lots of packets of cheese & onion crisps many years ago and I could tell the Walkers packet immediately. And according to the Walkers website, cheese & onion is the company’s most popular flavour.
For the ultimate lockdown food, I would have my cheese & onion crisps with chocolate. Then comes the question – do you eat the chocolate first and crisps second, crisps first and chocolate second or take alternate mouthfuls of each. Personally, I take alternate mouthfuls of each.
Most other packets of cheese & onion crisps come in a green packet, but Walkers cheese & onions crisps come in a blue packet – with the salt & vinegar in a green packet. Another random fact about Walkers crisps is that they all go out of date on a Saturday (not that they stay long enough in my cupboard for that to happen). Apparently, the reason is that the Walkers factory changes its date code at midnight on a Saturday.
Kathryn Wilson, Features coordinator
In times of stress, upset or sadness, a slice of your favourite cake is like having a friend put a reassuring arm around you and tell you everything’s going to be OK.
My mum used to make cakes once a week while I was growing up and baking was always a big part of my childhood, when my sister and I would fight over who got to scrape out the bowl of mixture.
I have no desire to watch other people making cakes (sorry Bake Off) but find making them myself a great way to wind down. There’s something about the weighing of the ingredients, the mixing and the smoothing that is so very soothing.
Plus the element of anticipation as you wait, first for it to cook, then to cool down, before you can cut that first delicious slice.
To be honest, I can’t remember the first cake I made, but I certainly remember the last – a Victoria sponge, with added coconut, that I am still working my way through. Team with a cup of tea (milk, no sugar, please) and you have the perfect combination.
Take a break…
While you’re curling up with a cuppa and your favourite comfort food, why not check out the story of how Amateur Gardening started back in 1884? To find out more about Shirley Hibberd, the extraordinary first editor of AG who pioneered gardening for the masses, read our feature here.
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