As the first of winter’s cold snaps grips the country we caught up with home chef and author of the new cookbook “Pink Gin and Fairy Cakes”, Jan Kohler, to find out how she approaches the season of stews and spices, and how she fills her home, and probably her neighbourhood, with scents of delicious food and baked goods.
Jan’s delightful book offers over 200 pages of decadent inspiration for starters, cooked meals, desserts and baked treats, and even a selection of cocktails and beverages.
How do you approach winter in your home kitchen, as a chef?
I tend to start cooking a little earlier in the day. At this time of year, I love making stews and casseroles that cook in a cast iron pot in the oven for most of the day. I find this slowly heats up the kitchen, and transforms my living areas into a warm, inviting space – not to mention the delicious aromas.
What is your warmest winter memory from your childhood in the kitchen?
My parents loved cooking stews and casseroles, which is probably why this is my “go-to” winter dish. While our kitchen wasn’t a cosy place to sit, the wonderful smells that filled our home on winter days is definitely a favourite memory.
What are your favourite winter ingredients, and why?
Potatoes, spices and wine. All of these are essential ingredients in many of the winter dishes I make. Potatoes, in particular, are delicious in casseroles, they thicken soups and make wonderful side dishes that fill up bellies really well.
Which tradition has mastered the art of winter dining?
I’d definitely say the French have got this right. From French Onion Soup, to Coq au Vin, to Beef Bourguignon – not to mention the most amazing cheese dishes, from the very cold, snowy regions. These include, Tartiflette, Raclette and Savoyarde Fondue.
Do you specifically avoid any ingredients in winter?
I think this is just around seasonality – I prefer to not cook with things that aren’t in season. You end up paying a fortune for them or the quality and flavour is sub-standard. For example, I wouldn’t use tinned Mango in a salad when Mango is not in season.
What are your recommended wines or liqueurs to pair with winter dining?
I’m a huge fan of Pinot Noir, so I’m happy to say that a Burgundy is the perfect pairing with Coq au Vin. (Or just about anything for me!)
If you’re not a huge fan of white wine, Pinot Noir is the perfect light red wine to go with certain foods, like a cheese board, chicken dishes or fish.
A crisp Riesling or Viognier, however, can’t be beaten when it comes to a spicy curry.
What is your favourite winter dessert?
Saffron Poached Pears! Slow-cooked in white wine, beautiful aromatic spices and saffron, these are light and full of winter flavours. Poached pears are perfect after a heavy meal, which we often over-indulge in during winter. (This recipe can be found in my book).
What meals does your family enjoy most on cold evenings?
They just love a hearty Oxtail stew that has been cooking all day!
What are your favourite recipes to cook with your children, during winter?
My kids enjoy baking so I guess the one thing they will help with is baking bread. They also love soup so we often have soups in winter with homemade, nutty wheat loaf. This is an easy bread that kids can make all by themselves.
The other dish that my children love to get involved with is making Enchiladas. This is also a warm, comforting meal and they have fun rolling up the chicken-filled wraps and layering the dish for baking.
Do have any quick go-to recipes for the cold evenings?
There are a few recipes I’d recommend that you don’t need to “fidget” with once you’ve put them in the pot and on the go. Once again, I’m coming back to casseroles here (or one-pot wonders, as I like to call them), and you’ll find them all in “Pink Gin and Fairy Cakes”.
My favourites are Lamb Curry, Oxtail Stew, Youvetsi, Coq au Vin and a really simple one – good, old-fashioned Bolognaise sauce!
Can you offer any chef tricks to ‘eating warm’ while staying healthy?
Soup is a great way of eating healthily in winter. You can add several vegetables to the soup without the cream or carbs if you don’t want the extra calories. A sweet potato goes a long way to thickening a vegetable soup and has its own delicious benefits.
Warm salads are also a great idea. Sometimes I make a salad of roast veg and couscous or baby gems and this is a lighter, healthier option too.
That said, you’re already more than halfway there just by making the food yourself, using as many fresh ingredients as possible. A cook-from-scratch approach doesn’t need to be difficult or time-consuming, and you cut out so many preservatives and “unknowns” in the food by doing so.
Can you offer tips on hosting a winter celebration under lockdown?
I’ve seen so many people celebrate special occasions under lockdown over the past few months. Initially, there was much excitement around making food for just your family of 4 and perhaps sharing it on social media with friends, to feel like you’re widening the circle, but let’s not kid – the children are not going to love the food and wine pairings as much as you do!
If you’d like to include friends and family in your celebration, perhaps an idea is to make food together, virtually. You can share the recipe ahead of time and even get the ingredients delivered to them. That way, you can cook and eat together.
There’s no easy way of celebrating in groups right now – even when we are social distancing “together”, our interactions will be very different. And if you can’t show your love with a hug, I’d recommend baking them a cake!
Many of Jan Kohler’s easy and innovative recipes can also be found on her cooking blog, which she updates regularly with new tasty creations.
Pink Gin and Fairy Cakes, is available by online order at Burble or directly from Jan and can be purchased in-store at Dry Dock Liquor Merchants or The Refillery, when stopping over to pick up your favourite pink gin or dry goods.