Simply food


Out standing in the cold on New Year’s Eve, pre-resolution

I’m not going to drink any more in January, my late father-in-law used to say, and I’m not going to drink any less. I think I’ll follow his wise advice.

Those who decide to give up booze for 31 days apparently call themselves members of the January Club, although if they really knew it was the name of a dreadful pre-war fascist group in Britain they might use the less snappy Dry January or the groan-worthy Drynuary.

Looking at the piles of Champagne and wine bottles piled in the snow out back, waiting to go to the beer store for recycling, and a few bottles of Scotch and gin too, reminds of the excess of family and friends helping us through the celebrations of Christmas, Boxing Day and the New Year. Quitting will save re-stocking the wine fridge and Scotch bucket, and make things much easier on the wallet when eating out. Ever since I got back from a trip to Britain in October, celebrating my mother’s 100th birthday I’ve needed to lose a few pounds. More pounds were packed on through the weeks leading up to the holidays. The excesses of family feasts from Christmas Eve onwards are recorded in the dinner book. Why, I could hardly get into my Napier tartan trews on New Year’s Eve!

Any way you look at it, lots of folk give up drinking for a month or more. A young man of our acquaintance is giving up drinking until his birthday in early March, a laudable and healthy target. It will be interesting to see if he makes it. Me, I’m trying to stick to just one Scotch a night and nothing during the day.

Bob Blumer, who hosts a show on the Food Network, writing in Toronto’s Globe and Mail before Christmas, gave a good list of pros and cons for quitting in January. The best were: you drop pounds without even thinking about it (for) and friends seem less interesting than you thought they were (against).

In the UK, where the idea of Dry January has a much higher public profile than in North America, the government’s Public Health England program has supported an annual campaign that “encourages drinkers to take a break and have a Dry January.” There’s even an app called Dry January, created by the British charity Alcohol Concern, that shows how much money and calories are saved by not imbibing. (It’s free for both Apple and Android.)

The Coopers with their happy pigs

I’ve given myself a much bigger challenge. After a lifetime of being a carnivore, I’ve decided to become as much of a vegetarian as I can for a month. I’ve tried this once before (see IS BACON ETHICAL?) and made it into month three before quitting over the tantalising odour of fried bacon on a campfire. Over the eight years I’ve been married (this time and for the last time), we’ve cut back enormously on red meat. I don’t suppose I’ve cooked red meat in four years in the house, settling for pork, fowl and fish instead. Now I’m planning to cut out the fowl (having feasted on turkey to excess over the holidays, that’s not too hard); ham and bacon will be tougher as there’s still quarter of a left-over ham and a couple of packs of bacon in the freezer. There’s always the temptation to use the ‘just finish off the left-overs’ excuse, rather than chucking them out. I’m not sure I can throw away several tins of shortbread, ginger and chocolate cookies, both hand baked or gifted, nor oodles of chocolate truffles and treats either. However, Diane is very good at hiding these temptations away from me in the normal course of events, so that shouldn’t be too much of a stretch once they disappear from sight.

The point of giving up meat is not just the healthy benefits, but an acknowledgement that we are eating animals that have been grown specifically for us to eat. While it is natural for us, as carnivores, to eat meat, it is not healthy to eat meat that has been raised in a cruel and unhealthy manner. When one realizes that pigs are at least as intelligent as dogs, it makes you understand that on the way to the slaughterhouse, they must surely know what is in store. The current trend of not feeding or watering pigs on the last couple of days of transport, on the premise that it makes the meat better for us, is both cruel and stupid.

How can we honestly believe that a terrified, starving, dehydrated animal is better at slaughter than an animal that has been gently raised and quietly led to the end. Our organic farmers on Market to Table all told us their pigs, lambs and calves had lead exemplary lives. One relates how the pigs follow her around the farm as she feeds the other animals. Although farmers in Ontario (and elsewhere, I’m sure) are not allowed to slaughter their own stock for health reasons, she assured us they had a kind end. None of the cruelty of cutting their throats while alive, as practiced by kosher and halal butchers.

Female pigs for breeding are often kept almost their entire lives in gestation crates which prevent them from moving around or even fully lying down, to stop them crushing their young. Better to put them in a large sty or let them run loose in a field where the piglets can get out of the way when mum turns over, as they do at one of the farms we filmed while making my travel show Escapes with Nigel.

Veal is another example of a product from an animal that is kept constrained its entire short and miserable life. While Provimi sounds like an exotic Italian breed of calf, it in fact refers to a disgusting mixture of proteins, vitamins and minerals that ensure the animal remains anaemic until slaughter, thus providing patrons of high-end restaurants with perfect white veal and light-coloured liver. That they suffer terribly in crates, while enduring life long diarrhea, should turn every thinking carnivore off veal and calves’ liver. If you must, ensure it is ‘milk-fed.’

Battery hen produced eggs are another target. The hens’ legs become so weak that if they were let out to run around, they would break from their confinement. After months producing perfect, standard white eggs, they go for slaughter as broiler fowl. For those with a conscience, ‘free-range’ or ‘free-run’ on the packaging of their eggs is a kinder purchase. Chickens and turkeys grown for the meat market are frequently kept in pens in large numbers, where the stress of living so un-naturally starts them pecking at each other. The farmers’ solution is to burn off the end of their beaks. Organic and grass fed, free-range birds are the only kind answer if you insist on eating them. Enough said!

There are a few recipes in my recently published e-book MARKET TO TABLE: THE COOKBOOK which already start us down the vegetarian and seafood road: chili sin carne, ‘spag bol’ with tofu faux ground meat, other pasta dishes, fish pie, baked salmon, and several egg dishes, soups, salads and vegetarian dishes.

But for the long haul we need to search a wider field and bring some new stuff into the repertoire, beyond simply cooking more vegetables. For that reason, I’ve been poring over several vegetarian cookbooks. The one I’m most impressed with is Yotam Ottolenghi, author of Plenty More, who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in THE SWOONING IMAM, so I won’t repeat myself here.

The trick to his PEA AND MINT CROQUETTES (recipe below) is not to worry too much how the croquettes look when you first make them. They will firm up nicely in the freezer. After a couple of hours they set rock solid. Coat them in flour, egg dip and Panko bread crumbs and pan fry them still frozen until they are browned on both sides. Knock off any loose peas or bits of mush and they will maintain an excellent shape. Then you can put them back in the freezer until needed, then bake them for about 25 mins.


Adapted from Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi, with thanks

Shopping list

  • 6 banana shallots (or 12 regular shallots) finely chopped, about 2 cups / 300 g
  • 1 TBSP white vinegar
  • 5 ¼ cups / 700 g frozen green peas, thawed
  • 2/3 cup/20 g mint leaves, finely shredded
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 4 eggs
  • ¾ cup plus 1 TBSP /100 g all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ cups / 150 g panko bread crumbs
  • Sunflower oil, for frying
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper


  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • ½ cup / 120 g sour cream
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper

Preparation and cooking

  1. Make the sauce first. Mix ingredients well in a bowl, cover and refrigerate so the flavours blend. Put in a squeeze bottle for ease of garnishing.
  2. Chop the shallots finely, sauté over medium heat until soft, about 15 mins. Add vinegar and cook for a further 2 mins.
  3. Place the defrosted peas in a blender until they are broken up but not a paste, or smash them about by hand with a potato masher. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the shallots, finely shredded mint, crushed garlic and 1 beaten egg. Add a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper.
  4. Line a tray with baking parchment, make balls about 2 oz/ 60g each, then mould the croquettes by hand so they are about ¾ in thick and 2 ¾ in across. You’ll soon get the hang of placing the ball on the parchment and squashing it down, while keeping the edges from cracking open. Put in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up.
  5. Meanwhile, gently beat the remaining 3 eggs in one bowl. Place the flour in another bowl and the bread crumbs in a third. Remove the croquettes from the freezer and one at a time, roll them in the flour, dip them in egg and then coat with breadcrumbs.
  6. Preheat the oven to 220C / 425F.
  7. Sauté the croquettes in hot oil for about 4 mins, in batches, turning once, so they are golden on both sides.
  8. Transfer back to the baking sheet and warm through in the oven for about 15 mins, or leave them in the fridge, but not the freezer, so they are defrosted before baking. If they are still mostly frozen, they will need baking for about 25 mins.
  9. Serve at once with the sauce drizzled over the top.

Featured Image: 5 bottles of Beaujolais Villages, 4 bottles of cava, 3 bottles of Champagne, 2 bottles of cremant and many assorted others litter the snowbank in the backyard: the wreckage of the holidays

4 replies »

  1. I admire the self-discipline of people who give up alcohol and meat, especially when tempted by my famous barbecued filet mignon with a gorgeous bottle or three of finely aged Bordeaux from the cellar. Jim, you can have Nigel’s share!!!


    • As you know, I forswore red wine long ago, but Jim can have my share anyway, as long as Gail tries out my pea and mint croquettes to go with the BBQ!


    • ‘The January Club!!’ What a daft notion, sayeth the wine guy. January, the coldest month of the year, is when one should have plenty of anti-freeze in one’s system, for Pete’s sake. David, I look forward to Nigel’s Gentleman’s Portion! Cheers! Jim


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