Twisted: Unserious food tastes seriously good.

Mental Health Awareness Week: 6 chefs share their ultimate comforting meals for one

13/05/2022

Twisted: Unserious food tastes seriously good.

Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman

05m read

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It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year, the theme is loneliness.

Many of us have experienced isolation and been separated from loved ones over the last few years – but for those dealing with mental health battles, the feeling of being alone can often live on far beyond lockdowns.

Of course, everyone’s mental wellbeing journeys are different, but if you’re up to it, we’re firm believers that stepping into the kitchen and cooking yourself a comforting meal is sometimes a real tonic when you’re feeling low.

Whether it’s a dish that reminds you of a happy time or a personal favourite that always ticks your boxes, treating yourself to a meal for one is an act of self love.

Just ask these guys…

Drew Wolf (Kold Sauce)

kold sauce comfort food

Drew Wolf says nothing is more comforting to him than his fish stew, with a dash of Kold sauce, obvs (Credit: Kold Sauce)

“Life is about ups and downs…for me, I can go way up and also way down.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find that middle ground and be content. If I’m feeling low, ill or just flat out exhausted I have a couple go to super simple recipes that sort me right out. This fish stew is one of them.

“Use as much cod and veg as your appetite calls for. I sometimes add a bit of white wine, some nice prawns, switch out the capers for peas… it’s a classic framework to do whatever you want.

“The process of making the dish gives you that focus and becomes part of the mental restoration.”

Drew’s Fish Stew

Ingredients

  • Quartered Fingerling Potatoes
  • Diced Onion, Celery, Carrot
  • Garlic
  • Two cans of chopped tomatoes
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Ritas Old Buoy seasoning (available here)
  • Cod Loins
  • Capers
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Olive Oil
  • Spring Onions
  • Vegetable stock cube
  • Juice and zest of 1 Lemon
  • Basmati Rice
  • Turmeric
  • Kold Sauce (my hot sauce)

Whip that shit up

  1. Quarter and boil the potatoes, set aside.
  2. Dice up and sweat off the onion, celery and carrot in some unsalted butter in a big pot.
  3. Once soft and cooked through, drop in 3 cloves of crushed garlic and the diced stems of the parsley and dill. Cook for a couple of mins.
  4. Season heavily with the smoked paprika and Rita’s Old Buoy (mix of celery salt, paprika, cumin, etc) Drop in the potatoes along with a couple glugs of good olive oil. Let that cook together for a few mins.
  5. Throw two cans of chopped tomatoes in and 500ml of vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and let that simmer for a good 15 mins.
  6. Get some rice on, I like to drop a bit of turmeric and saffron in the rice water..looks cool taste nice.
  7. Three tbs of capers roughly chopped and into the pot.
  8. Submerge your Cod loins into the pot so they are completely covered let that cook for 8 mins give or take a few.
  9. Once the fish is cooked turn off the heat.
  10. Roughly chop a small bunch of dill and parsley add that into the stew along with the juice and zest of a lemon.  Save some of the greens for garnish with the spring onions.
  11. Mix together one clove of crushed garlic, sea salt, black pepper and juice of half a lemon and a good amount of quality olive oil.
  12. Serve Drew’s Stew over rice and finish with the oil, and fresh herbs….. and a good drizzle of Kold Sauce.
  13. Boom… feel all better now!

Sam Gormally (Bada Bing Sandwich Deli)

sesame noodles comfort food

Sam says these noodles remind him of his time in New Zealand (Credit: Bada Bing)

“This hits all the spots when you’re feeling low and in need of some self love; comforting, rich, quick, no fuss and a nice hit of spice to get those endorphins flowing.

“The best part of this dish is that it’s filling and doesn’t require any cooking other than boiling a pan of water!

“It’s inspired by a place called Taste Of Home that I used to visit when in need of some comfort, when living and working in Wellington, New Zealand.”

Sam’s Sesame Sichuan Noodles Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 portion of noodles (for speed any instant ramen will work, but fresh noodles or even spaghetti are fine in a pinch)
  • 1 tbsp sesame paste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2-4 tbsp Sichuan chilli oil (preferably homemade but Lao gan ma chilli crisp works perfectly)
  • 1 tsp Shacha sauce (optional)
  • Pinch of msg (optional but recommended)
  • 1 sliced spring onion
  • Your choice of toppings (some of my favourites include Crispy fried spam, freezer dumplings, blanched greens, preserved mustard greens. Use what you have)

Method

  1. Mix all your sauce ingredients in your desired serving bowl starting with the sesame paste, gradually adding the wet ingredients to fully incorporate.
  2. Set aside.
  3. Cook noodles to packet instructions, add a bit of noodle cooking water to your sauce until desired consistency is reached.
  4. Toss your noddles in sauce in your bowl.
  5. Serve sat on your couch, with your favourite tv show playing!

Z He (Bun House/ Pleasant Lady Jian Bing Trading)

z he comfort food char sui

Ze He draws comfort from the memories of this family recipe (Credit: Z He)

“When I was little our family would always order in Char Siu and a portion of roast duck from our local roast shop when we had guests over! It is such a delicious, warming and wholesome dish.

“Even though I’ve lived in the UK for such a long time now and my home and family are here, if I’m ever missing Hong Kong, cooking myself this dish is the perfect antidote.

“The delicious smell of the pork roasting in the oven fills my kitchen and transports me straight back to my local roast shop which brings me so much comfort.”

Wun’s Sugar Skin Iberico Pork Char Siu

Ingredients

Char Siu Sauce:

  • Nam yu  (red fermented tofu) / 75g
  • Hoi sin sauce / 100ml
  • Fermented bean sauce / 100ml
  • Sugar / 100g
  • Oyster sauce / 60ml

Marinade:

  • Sugar / 50g
  • Salt / 10g
  • Soy / 400 ml
  • Char siu sauce / 200 – 25oml
  • Honey / 50ml

Sugar skin dust:

  • Sugar 100g
  • Salt 10g
  • Chicken powder 10g
  • 13 spice 10g
  • Sand ginger powder 5g

Other:

  • Iberico pork belly (skinless and boneless) / 1kg

Method

  1. Cut pork belly into approx. 6×2 inches long thick strips
  2. Combine all marinade ingredients (except the honey) and mix well. 
  3. Combine all sauce ingredients and mix well. Char Siu sauce can be pre-made and stored in jars for future marinades. To make a smaller batch simply reduce the ingredients in ratio.
  4. Add pork into sauce and marinade for min. 2 hours or overnight for a better result. 
  5. Preheat the convection oven to 210C.
  6. Mix all sugar skin dust ingredients together and set aside. 
  7. Place pork on a rack and roast for 23 min. 
  8. Take the rack out of the oven and flip all the pork, 
  9. Brush honey on all surfaces of the pork.
  10. Put it back into the oven and roast for another 20 minutes or until edges are lightly charred with a shiny and lightly golden finish. 
  11. Set aside to cool. 
  12. Before serving, coat the cool-down pork strips with sugar dust. Put back into the oven for 2 min or until sugar dust melts with a slight char on the edges.
  13. Let the pork cool until the sugar crisps up then serve.

Miguel Barclay (Miguel’s Pizza, Neyba)

miguel barclay comfort food

Miguel’s comfort food is a tomatoey gnocchi (Credit: Dan Jones)

“Here’s my ultimate comfort dish for one. No need to make the gnocchi from scratch, just chuck these ingredients in a dish, let the oven do all the work and eat it in front of the telly while it’s cold and wet outside.

“A lovely warming plate of food to lift your spirits and give you a big food hug.

“This dish in particular is from my new recipe book, Green One Pound Meals, and always reminds me of simple and practical family cooking, with big bowls of lovingly cooked food with bold flavours that you can just dig into.

“My favourite part is the way that the cheese melts and goes all stringy as you serve it up with a big spoon, bringing back all those memories”.

Miguel’s Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
  • Handful of shop bought gnocchi
  • Handful of grated cheddar
  • A few chunks of Stilton
  • Pinch of oregano
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Method

  1. Pre-heat your ocean to 180c
  2. Grab an ovenproof dish and add the chopped tomatoes and gnocchi.
  3. Add some grated cheddar and chunks of Stilton, then season with salt, pepper and oregano.
  4. Give it a little stir, then scatter over some more cheese and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in the oven for about 35mins or until bubbling hot and serve.

Anna Mae (Anna Mae’s Mac N Cheese)

anna mae mac and cheese comfort food

Anna Mae says it doesn’t get more comforting than Mac and Cheese (Credit: Anna Mae’s Mac N Cheese)

“Cooking is one of my favourite things to do when I have some time by myself, its creative and therapeutic, and uplifting when you have something delicious to show for it!

“When I’m in a low mood or feeling overwhelmed I want food to wrap me up in a comforting blanket, and this recipe is like the biggest, fluffiest, most luxe blanket you can wish for.

“It ticks all the boxes with a decent amount of cheese and decadent truffle, and the little bit of work you put into the prep makes it feel all the more deserved when you tuck into a (big) bowl.

“I’ve also cooked this for friends who might be feeling in need of some support and the process of preparing, cooking and eating can be really up-lifting.”

Anna’s Mac-gic Mushroom 

Ingredients

Mushroom ragu:

  • Large knob of butter
  • 3 shallots
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves removed
  • 250g chopped chestnut mushrooms (use any kind of shrooms you fancy)
  • 250g chopped field mushrooms
  • 250 ml dry white wine
  • Pinch salt & freshly ground pepper

For the Mac:

  • 400g elbow macaroni

Starter Sauce:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 1 pint/ 568ml whole milk at room temperature
  • Pinch salt
  • 150g mild cheddar, grated
  • 100g mature cheddar, grated
  • 120g taleggio, rind removed and cubed
  • 30g parmesan, finely grated

To serve:

  • Drizzle of black truffle oil
  • Small handful of thyme leaves

Method

  1. Pre heat the oven to 220°C / 200 (fan)°C / Gas Mark 7
  2. In a sauté pan melt the butter over a medium flame, add the shallots, garlic and thyme and cook until softened.
  3. Add the mushrooms and combine with the shallots until the mushrooms are also soft and releasing moisture.
  4. Next add the wine, the salt and pepper and leave to reduce until the liquid has thickened but not disappeared, covering over a low heat.
  5. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Pour into a colander and leave to drain thoroughly.
  6. Now for the Starter Sauce. In a heavy bottomed saucepan heat the milk until hot but not boiling. Heating milk allows a smooth transition into a silky sauce.
  7. Meanwhile in another heavy bottomed pan melt the butter. Reduce to a low heat and gradually add the flour stirring into a paste with a wooden spoon – this is your roux. Whilst stirring continue to cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until it turns golden in colour, being careful not to over brown the mixture, this means it’s burnt.
  8. Slowly whisk the heated milk into the roux a little at a time, stirring vigorously. Once fully combined turn up to a medium heat and cook for another 5 – 8 minutes or until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of the wooden spoon.
  9. Make sure you stir constantly to keep the sauce smooth and to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom
  10. of the pan. Season with salt.
  11. Over a low heat add the cheddar and taleggio and mix until melted. Fold in the well-drained pasta until fully combined into the sauce.
  12. Grab an ovenproof dish and pour in half of the mac, then evenly spoon over your mushroom ragu and drizzle with truffle oil – you could add some extra slices of taleggio here for an extra cheesy hit.
  13. Pour the rest of your mac over the ragu, sandwiching it in the centre of your mac. Cover the top with the thyme and then the grated parmesan (maybe even more taleggio?!) and place in the oven until golden.
  14. Remove from the oven and enjoy with a delicious glass of white wine.

Ellen Chew (Rasa Sayang, Shan Shui)

comfort food ellen chew

Ellen Chew says labouring over a Beef Rendang is her ultimate comfort (Credit: Ellen Chew)

“One of my favourite dishes to eat when I need a bit of comforting is Beef Rendang. This dish is made from about 10 different spices and takes about 6-8 hours of standing in front of the stove and stirring to make sure the beef is infused with all the flavours and cooked till it’s tender without being burnt.

“It’s truly a labour of love and when you sink your teeth in it, you’d taste that love!

“The low and slow process is mesmerising too – great for unwinding, and a little bit of soul-searching, before you enjoy what you’ve made.

Ellen’s Beef Rendang

Ingredients

  • 1kg beef cut to cubes
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 4 stalks of lemongrass (white part only, and bashed)
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 3 turmeric leaves
  • Water
  • 100gm of grated coconut

Paste:

  • 12 cloves of garlic
  • 9 shallots (or 260gm)
  • 6 red chili
  • 50gm of Galangal (Blue Ginger)
  • 50 gm of Turmeric
  • 1 tsp of coriander
  • 1 tbsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  •  10 cloves
  • 4 candlenuts

Method

  1. Blend all the ingredients for the paste in a food processor.
  2. Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok and fry the paste over low heat till fragrant (approximately 5 – 6 mins).
  3. Add the coconut milk and lemongrass into the wok and continue stirring.
  4. Add the cubes of beef, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric leaves and bring the coconut milk and paste to boil over medium heat.
  5. Bring to a simmer over low heat and add water from time to time to prevent the dish from drying out. Remember to continue stirring often to prevent burning.
  6. In a separate pan, dry-fry the grated coconut until golden brown and grind in a motar to a paste.
  7. Add the coconut paste and cook till the beef turns dark brown and when the meat has absorbed all the spices and flavours. The process should take about 3 hours.
  8. Serve with jasmine rice or bread.

Naturally, with any of these recipes, you can store the leftovers to maximise the comfort and stretch it as far as it can go. But hey, we won’t judge you if you head up for leftovers more than once, either…

We hope these meals have given you some inspiration if you fancy a meal for one this Mental Health Week.

Go on, you deserve it.

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