Bored, restless, irritable, or feeling a bit down? There's nothing like a run of dire winter weather for cabin fever to take hold. The sun is such an important contributor to our feelings of happiness and wellbeing but when it ain't shining, there are some useful foods that can compensate and help boost your mood.
The feel-good vitamin, vitamin D, is produced by our skin on exposure to sunlight. Over winter when there's less sunshine, our bodies produce less vitamin D. Milk and dairy products are good sources of vitamin D, as are mushrooms and egg yolks. Mushrooms also have the benefit of producing additional vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet light. Simply by putting store-bought mushrooms on the window sill for a couple of hours in the middle of the day to get some sun dramatically increases their vitamin D (gill side up will produce more of this important vitamin).
Not surprisingly, leafy greens are another class of vegetable with useful attributes to beat the winter blues. As well as being a rich source of numerous vitamins and minerals including potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, iron, and calcium, leafy greens like spinach, kale, silverbeet and rocket are also an excellent source of folate. Folate aids in the creation and regulation of serotonin, our favourite feel-good chemical. Other good sources of folic acid include oatmeal, oranges, bananas, nuts, eggs, beans, peas and lentils.
But there's really nothing better than rugging up and heading outdoors with a picnic when the clouds finally part, to blow out the cobwebs. Whether you head to the slopes to ski, or find a beach, a bushwalk or a park, it's the chance to get some fresh air in your lungs and those natural rays on your skin.
Your picnic meal can be as simple as buying a baguette, some paté, salad greens and a tangy vinaigrette dressing to assemble terrific French-style sandwiches. Or make Vietnamese-style bahn mi sandwiches with a good smear of paté, slices of cooked roast pork, shredded carrot, cucumber, coriander and a hoisin or sriracha-flavoured mayonnaise (2 Tbsp either hoisin or sriracha sauce per ½ cup mayo).
A quiche or other portable pie is always popular picnic fare. I've included a recipe below for a classic ham and leek quiche but there's no limit to the combinations of flavours you can create using the custard base of eggs, milk and cream. Think caramelised onion, cheese and bacon, mushrooms cooked off with garlic, lemon zest and thyme with goat's cheese, smoked salmon leek and dill, courgettes, pinenuts, ricotta and parmesan.
Finish of your picnic meal with a sweet slice or a nugget of best-quality chocolate.
If the weather is really nippy, you might want to pack a thermos of piping-hot soup or fill it with hot water and a stash of instant miso sachets.
The weather might be foul but we can still be happy.
Chicken Liver Paté
Once you've made chicken liver paté and seen how simple it is, you'll be unlikely to buy it again. I usually make a big batch and freeze it in small containers that I can pull out an hour or two before I plan to serve it.
Ready in 20 mins
Makes about 1½ cups
4 Tbsp butter
About 400g free-range chicken livers, trimmed of membranes and quartered
1 clove garlic, crushed with ½ tsp salt
3 Tbsp brandy
2 tsp thyme leaves
Ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup creme fraiche or cream
2 Tbsp fruit jelly, such as redcurrant, mixed with 1 Tbsp water (optional)
Heat butter in a large, heavy-based frying pan. When it bubbles and starts to brown, add chicken livers and cook over high heat for 1 minute on each side. Add garlic and sizzle for a few seconds, then add brandy and cook until it has evaporated (another minute or so). Take care not to overcook the. livers, you want them to be browned on the outside but still pink and soft in the centre.
Transfer to a blender or food processor, add thyme, black pepper and creme fraiche or cream and whizz until very smooth.
Transfer to a serving bowl or jar and chill for 1-2 hours to set. If not making jelly topping, cover the paté with a round of waxed paper then seal the dish so it doesn't dry out.
If making the jelly topping, warm fruit jelly and water together to melt jelly then allow to cool for about 5 minutes before pouring it over the set paté (don't pour it over when it is very hot or it will melt into the paté — it does still need to be liquid though).
The paté will keep for up to a week in the fridge or can be frozen.
Classic Ham and Leek Quiche
Keeping a packet of savoury shortcrust pastry sheets in the freezer is a fast track to any kind of tart or pie. You can substitute 150g smoked flaked salmon, a 210g can of drained salmon or 4 rashers diced bacon cooked until crispy, in place of the ham.
Ready in 1 hour
2 sheets store-bought savoury shortcrust pastry
2 Tbsp butter
1 large leek (white and ½ green part), thinly sliced
2 tsp thyme leaves, chopped, or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup milk
½ cup sour cream or cream
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
160g ham, finely chopped
1 cup grated gruyere or tasty cheese
Preheat oven to 170C fanbake and grease a 27-28cm loose-bottom flan tin.
Stack the pastry sheets on top of each other and roll out thinly to a circle about 35cm in diameter. Press the base and 4cm up the sides of the prepared tin. Chill until needed.
Heat butter in a medium-large pot and cook leeks and thyme over a medium heat until fully wilted and tender (12 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
In a mixing bowl whisk together eggs, milk, sour cream or cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir in leeks and ham. Pour into the prepared pastry shell and sprinkle with cheese. Bake until filling is set and pastry is golden (30 minutes).
Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature. The quiche will keep well in the fridge for several days and can be reheated to serve.
The Ultimate Ginger Crunch
This is one of my most popular slice recipes and it's such a cinch to make.
Ready in 45 mins
Makes 24 squares
½ cup sugar
¼ cup golden syrup
1½ cups rolled oats
¾ cup self-raising flour
½ cup desiccated coconut
2 tsp ground ginger
3 Tbsp golden syrup
2 cups icing sugar
4 tsp ground ginger
3 Tbsp chopped crystallised ginger
Preheat oven to 170C fanbake and line a small slice tray (about 21cm x 27cm) with baking paper.
To make the base, heat together butter, sugar and golden syrup in a medium pot until melted. Mix in oats, flour, coconut and ginger to evenly combine. Press firmly and evenly into prepared tray and bake until pale golden (20-25 minutes).
When the base is nearly cooked, make the topping by heating together butter and golden syrup in a medium pot until melted and starting to bubble. Stir in icing sugar and ground ginger to combine evenly and spread mixture over cooked base while still hot. When the topping is set, stud with pieces of crystallised ginger. Cut into squares while warm. Store in a sealed container in a cool place. It will keep for a couple of weeks (if you hide it).