Happy 2011 - ease yourself in gently!

I always think it strange that we celebrate the New Year in the middle of winter! Of course it is handy to book end the calendar year with a celebration and it certainly cements the Christmas period into a full blown festive season but the reality goes against the natural world. We conjure resolutions and set ourselves challenges expecting to be highly motivated just because it is January 1.

I always think it strange that we celebrate the New Year in the middle of winter! Of course it is handy to book end the calendar year with a celebration and it certainly cements the Christmas period into a full blown festive season but the reality goes against the natural world. We conjure resolutions and set ourselves challenges expecting to be highly motivated just because it is January 1.

Sadly, apart from the date, there is nothing that new about the first day of January. The trees are still bare, plant life looks barren and those in hibernation are still very much asleep. The days can be cold and while we have passed the shortest day of the year in December, the days don't really seem to lengthen that much until February at best.

If I were in charge (aren't you all glad I'm not) I would definitely make some changes. Oh you can keep enjoying the parties on December 31, but their purpose would be purely diversion in the bleak mid winter. The real New Year on my planet wouldn't be celebrated until the start of spring, when new birth is visible for all and we might actually be helped instead of hindered by nature with our new goals. I am always particularly fascinated by the brave who attempt a diet in January. It is possibly the most challenging month of the year to start cutting back on food. First of all the weather is usually still a little nippy and so the body needs fuel to burn to keep it warm and secondly most homes still have a few items from the dieter's 'naughty list' hanging around.

I tend not to make resolutions as such, but see January as a time to prepare and think about what I want to achieve in any given year. It is a breathing space to think clearly after the excesses of Christmas. I also find January is a great month for leisurely cooking. Christmas can create a little pressure on any kitchen, but January is for nourishment, hoovering up the Christmas leftovers and creating interesting dishes to clear the cupboards and perhaps even trying a few new things. There are no presents to wrap, no parties to arrange or cater for and by now the decorations are almost down and the home has returned to normal. The short days make it a perfect time to sit indoors and explore all those cookery books on the shelf or that you got for Christmas. Who knows, you may even have received a copy of my own book, An Irish Butcher Shop, and if you did there are some humdinger January recipes in it.

Hopefully by now the turkey is but a dim and distant memory but it is possible that you will have other seasonal bits and pieces hanging around. There may be cheeses that are edging towards their use by dates, a pot or two of crme fraiche, left over bread, cranberry sauce and enough dips and relishes to start your own small shop, and no doubt, some chocolate here and there! Don't let these items go to waste but look for imaginative ways to use them up and clean out the store cupboard. Chicken is always really versatile when it comes to combining it with other winter ingredients. Using some stock and vegetables a delicious soup can be whisked up in no time. A few days ago I made a fantastic Chicken and Leek pie. I also added carrots and mushrooms to the recipe and made a cream sauce rather than a gravy. I also used short crust pastry as opposed to the recommended puff pastry. The whole dish tasted like winter and it was wonderful.

We taste so many good things around the Christmas period that sometimes it is hard to single out and appreciate some flavours. I think it is wrong that we eat like Kings for the twelve days of Christmas only to revert to the 'ordinary' come January. I think we should have a little more balance. Of course our occasions should be special, but I think we should all treat ourselves a little better in between times. On a cold day there is nothing like a rich and filling dish; savoury or sweet. I noticed in many of the December issues of various popular food magazines a trend towards the very nostalgic Beef Wellington. It went slightly out of fashion for a few years but, funnily enough, I put a Wellington recipe in my own book because it is an old favourite and then suddenly it was everywhere. I can't think of a better dish for January to make you feel rich and decadent. Beef Wellington is made with fillet beef or why not make it with the relatively new Waygu beef available from James Whelan Butchers at the Oakville Shopping Centre in Clonmel. Drop by and we'll tell you all about it.

Talking of James Whelan Butchers I really want to direct everyone to our website this year. If you live nearby you probably enjoy coming into the shop but our website is a fantastic food destination and not just for selling meat. There are recipes, how to videos and other food information that is invaluable to a family kitchen. If your New Year's resolution is to become a little more computer savvy this year or to learn how to use the internet, then the JWB site would be a great place to start.

Finally if you have already started your New Year's diet who am I to come along and rain on your parade, but I would say that you shouldn't be too hard on yourself to begin with. Ease yourself in gently and by all means plan ahead. Enjoy using up what's still in the house and always remember this: Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, "WOO HOO what a ride!"

Happy New Year!