Sometimes something as simple as having your family sitting down together at a table and eating a meal together, in the light of modern stresses, can become very precious indeed and is a wonderful opportunity to nurture and nourish.
By comfort I don’t mean eating a whole tub of ice cream when your heart is broken (like they seem to do repeatedly in soppy movies), though I guess that is probably a very valid thing to do. But rather the way people always rally around when someone is ill or has died or had a baby, filling your fridge with casseroles and soups.
Food has an amazing ability to ground you, and at the same time transport you to a place that is safe and warm. And I believe that the benefits are almost as great for the person making the food as for those receiving and consuming it. Making chicken soup from scratch, from boiling up the bones to pouring the finished soup into a jar and delivering it to your neighbour or friend. It is satisfying on a very deep level.
At Pipi we are able to do this each night and I am always honoured when people choose to come to Pipi after a funeral or when they are going through a difficult time. What people find comforting obviously varies a lot depending on the age, country of origin, body type, but generally people seem to enjoy dishes that have history and are tied up with memories.
I am sure you all have your own stash of these recipes – Aunt Martha’s sultana cake, or great granny’s beef stew – that deliver the perfect level of comfort and nutrition. But just in case you need inspiration here are a couple of mine.
Pipi Sticky Date Puddings
(from Pipi ‘the cookbook’)
For the date puddings
1 teaspoon baking soda
150g soft brown sugar
1 cup flour
3½ teaspoons baking powder
120g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped into bits no smaller than your fingernail (or they will melt completely)
For the caramel sauce
440g caster sugar
½ cup water
To make the date puddings
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line six of the cavities in a muffin tin with greaseproof paper so the paper comes 3cm over the top of the tin, creating a much bigger container for the mixture, which means you get bigger puddings.
Put the dates, prunes and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat, add the baking soda and then blend well in a whiz.
Now cream together the butter and sugar with an electric beater. Add the eggs one at a time.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder together. Then fold this and the chocolate into the creamed butter and sugar. Add the date and prune mixture.
Fill each muffin cavity three-quarters full. Put in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes until just done. You want them to be still a bit squishy but not runny. If not serving straight away, reheat for 5 minutes in a steamer. Serve with caramel sauce.
To make the caramel sauce
Making the sauce can be tricky, the sugar can easily crystallise. but I think it’s all about confidence and having a very clean heavy-based saucepan. And also, apparently not stirring helps. Also helpful is using a clean pastry brush to push any of the liquid that shoots up the side of the pan back down into the rest of the sauce.
Mix the caster sugar and water in a saucepan on a gentle heat. Bring to the boil and cover for 3 minutes, then remove the lid and gently boil until it becomes a deep caramel colour. Once this happens, quickly remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and cream.
Spicy Chicken and Kūmera Soup
For the soup
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1½kg kūmera, peeled and medium chopped
1 large onion, roughly diced
120g chopped ginger
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2½ litres good chicken stock
500ml coconut cream
1kg leeks, finely sliced
1 tablespoons light olive oil
1½ teaspoons flakey sea salt
500g cooked chicken
Good bunch of coriander, broken up
½ cup toasted cashew nuts, roughly chopped
Put a glug of olive oil into a large pot over a low heat; once hot add the kūmera and onion. Cook slowly for 10-15 minutes until caramelised, stirring often so they don’t stick. Then add the ginger and curry paste, and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring.
Add the chicken stock and coconut cream to the pot, simmer for 20-25 minutes until the kūmera and onion are well cooked. Blitz with a hand wand or food processor until smooth.
In a separate heavy-based pan on a low heat, melt the leeks with the butter and a little olive oil until soft but not brown, do this with the lid on the pan, removing to stir every so often.
Now gently stir the leeks into the soup, and add the salt.
Break the chicken into bite sized pieces, and add it to the soup, then simmer for 5-10 minutes to heat the chicken through.
Serve into bowls, sprinkling the coriander and cashew nuts on top to serve.