by Emma Smith

This time of year is what the fashion folk call transitional, by which they mean the clothes we are wearing are still a bit wintery but there’s a hint of spring coming in too. It’s also a bit of a transitional period in the kitchen. Here at Emma’s Kitchen we are definitely still cooking and eating comforting hearty family meals but they are changing subtly to become a little more spring-like.

The soups I have been making for the past few weeks have changed from chowders and root vegetable soups; rib-stickers for cold days, to slightly lighter though still warming broths. I made a chicken noodle soup at the weekend to which I added pak choi, slices of ginger and red chillis, fish sauce and shredded spring onions. Not only did it taste great but both the family member who had over-indulged the night before and a teen suffering from a lingering sniffly cold agreed that it had medicinal value too.

Winter stalwart vegetables such as beetroot, parsnips, squash, carrots and artichokes are moving out of the soup pot and into warm salads. I love roasting carrot and beetroot sticks and tossing them with a mixture of spinach and rocket leaves and a nice robust dressing with some sunflower seeds toasted in a hot pan scattered on top for crunch. If you are feeling virtuous, do the sunflower seeds in a dry pan or you can fry them in a little sunflower or olive oil and add a couple of pinches of sea salt. Either way, I can’t leave sunflower seeds cooling on the hob for a minute without passing family traffic hoovering them up.

Porridge is still a popular choice in the morning at the Emma’s Kitchen table, but my eldest daughter and I are moving over to bircher muesli on these marginally lighter mornings. We mix rolled oats and sultanas with semi-skimmed milk at bedtime the night before (it’s one of those little rituals which make for such enjoyable moments in family life) and leave it to soak overnight in the fridge. In the morning the oats have transformed into something deliciously creamier than the sum of the parts and to them, we add grated pear, a couple of spoonfuls of natural yoghurt and we top each bowl with sliced banana and roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts (8 minutes at 180°C is perfect for the hazelnuts).

Minced beef is an ingredient that like a lot of Mums, I constantly rely on. It is tasty, nutritious, low in fat and endlessly versatile. Even though I know there are loads of great recipes to make with mince, lack of time does sometimes mean I get into a cottage pie/spaghetti Bolognese/chilli con Carne rut. I was busy over half term with cooking classes for 9 – 14 year-olds, children’s parties and a hen party so there was a big batch of spaghetti Bolognese made and eaten two nights in a row.

With everybody back at school, I remembered this recipe for Minced Beef and Cheese Pie which has long been a favourite with all my children but which we haven’t had for a while. To say this relation of a Cornish pasty it is back on the favourites list in our house would be to understate the glee with which my children and husband greeted its return. Like a pasty, it also makes a good packed lunch and you can always make double the filling and freeze half for another day. It perfectly fits the transitional eating vibe of the moment being absolutely wonderful with steamed peas and beans but you could use any green vegetable or team it with a warm salad. I hope you enjoy trying out the recipe.

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Emma Smith is an experienced cook who is passionate about making (and eating) delicious food. She set up Emma’s Kitchen in 2016 in response to growing requests from friends and neighbours for cooking and recipe advice. Emma is married with three children. When she’s not in the kitchen she is busy running a private nursery for local pre-school children.

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