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Cough. Splutter. Sniffle.

This week I've been on a vitamin drive.

It's mostly in response to having to take the metro more than usual. As a singer, all I tend to think about in this over-heated, over-crowded inferno are the squadrons of microbes whizzing around and specifically targeting my precious vocal chords. I like to glare at offensive splutterers, or change seats ostentatiously when I'm sitting next to someone who looks like they've picked up the latest strand of anthrax. I've probably developed some impressive free diving skills from seeing how long I can go without breathing.

Now I know everyone hates coming down with the dreaded lurgy. But for songsters, a little sniffle really can be crippling. Missing concerts, performances and auditions due to illness is an emotional nightmare. Will the employer I just cancelled on ever employ me again? Why aren't I better yet?? Will I ever sing again??? (in quick, feverish succession). It also means you don't earn any cash that week. Or month. It's enough to drive you to drink. Except you can't because you're probably on antibiotics, especially if you live in France.

My mother likes to fill my stocking every year with supplies of preventative echinacea and liquid (odourless!) garlic capsules, as my being ill seems to upset her even more than it does me. She also swears by dabbing a little tea tree oil under her nose before taking a flight. It 'catches' all the microbes before they go up your nose, she claims. Sounds like fool-proof science to me.

Sadly, there is no wonder solution, aside from staying at home all the time, which wouldn't exactly solve the problem of missing work. Or taking taxis everywhere, which, if I could afford to do, I probably wouldn't need to go to to work in the first place.

In my opinion, the best I can do is to try to keep my body as healthy as possible. Sleep? Yes. Keeping the festive booze to a minimum? Tricky, but I do my best. And VITAMINS. Not supplements, but all the good stuff you get from eating plenty of fresh fruit and veg. And just think of all the other benefits, like nice glossy hair, radiant skin and shiny nails. Just in time for said festive season.

The choice of fresh fruit and veg may be getting more limited as we head into Winter proper, but there is still plenty of offer. Especially if you're willing to get a little creative. This week at our local market stall there were boisterous broccoli, spunky sprouts, bright butternut and persistent peppers, among others. I went two ways with broccoli and made a winter warmer soup. These are vitamin packed, nourishing meals, which are also perfect for a pre-Christmas, penny saving detox in anticipation of feasts and extravagance to come. The two broccoli dishes could make a nice side for a casual dinner party with some simple grilled fish or meat, and the soup would serve as a lovely starter.

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Warm salad of roasted broccoli, sprouts, lentil, cranberry and pistachio.

Serves 2, 10 minutes prep time, 30 minutes cooking

salad / vegetarian / vegan / easy peasy / gluten free / dairy free / quietly smug / detox / autumn / winter / party / side

I'm pretty pleased with this little creation which is a colourful mix and match of wintry goodies. Did you know that 1 serving of broccoli contains 135% of your daily vitamin C allowance? Splutter away, neighbour.

* Lentils - 1/2 cup

* Vegetable stock cube - 1/2

* Broccoli - florets from one broccoli

* Sprouts - a couple of handfuls, tops removed, halved

* Olive oil

* Pomegranate molasses

* Lemon - juice of 1/4

* Fresh herbs - I used coriander and dill as that's what I had

* Pistachios - a handful, shelled and chopped

* Dried cranberries - a handful​

​Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C.

Lay the sprouts and broccoli florets on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Toss to evenly coat the veg. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the lentils with 1 cup of boiling water according to the packet instructions, adding the stock cube to the pan. When they are done, all the liquid should have evaporated. Add the lemon juice, a glug of olive oil, the herbs and a crack of pepper. Mix well and check for seasoning.

When the vegetables are nicely coloured and crispy on the edges, remove them from the oven.

Divide the lentils and vegetables between two bowls to serve, sprinkling with the cranberries and pistachios.

Variation - this salad would be lovely with a little hot smoked salmon if you want to add some extra protein. Or with a nice seven minute boiled egg.

Peppers stuffed with broccoli rice, leeks and dried porcini

Serves 2, 20 minutes prep time, plus 25 cooking time

main / side / vegetarian / vegan / gluten free / dairy free / quietly smug / detox / autumn / date night

I've had a jar of dried porcini sitting on my larder shelf since our last visit to Russia, which were hand picked and dried by Mama Marina herself. Their powerful flavour beautifully infuses the broccoli. Leeks are a member of the allium family, like onions and garlic. Scientific research has suggested that eating plenty of these may help to prevent the common cold. I'm willing to give it a go.

* Sweet peppers - 2, halved and deseeded

* Olive oil

* Leek - 1, finely sliced

* Dried porcini mushrooms* - a little handful (or use any fresh mushrooms, see note)

* Broccoli - stem of 1 (I saved the florets for a different recipe)

* Garlic - 2 cloves, peeled and finely sliced

* Dried oregano - 1 tsp

* Rosemary - 1 tsp

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

Place the peppers on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place in the oven while you prepare the filling.

In an ovenproof frying pan (large enough to fit the peppers snugly in a single layer), fry the leek in a glug of olive oil on a medium heat. Add a tablespoon of water, then cover and leave to steam, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, place the mushrooms in a heat proof bowl and pour over about 300ml of boiling water. Leave to soak.

Coarsely grate the broccoli. You may have to discard the end of the stem or the outer skin if it's stringy.

When the leek has softened nicely, after 10 or 15 minutes, strain the mushrooms, preserving the soaking liquid.

Add the garlic to the leeks and stir for a minute. Next add the mushrooms. A few minutes later add the broccoli, rosemary, oregano, and season with salt and pepper. Stir well and cook for a few more minutes.

Scoop all of the broccoli mixture into a bowl and set aside. Next, pour the preserved mushroom stock into the pan. Then remove the peppers from the oven, and carefully place them in the pan, cut side up, in the stock. Finally, nestle a few spoonfuls of filling into each pepper.

Place the pan in the oven and reduce the temperature to 180 degrees C. Leave to roast for about 25 Minutes, or until the peppers are really soft and beginning to caramelise.

Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. A slice of spiced pumpkin cornbread would be lovely with this.

* If you're using fresh mushrooms, finely slice them and add them as you would the porcini. Use vegetable stock instead of the preserved mushroom stock.

Variation - Place a slice of soft goats cheese on each pepper for the last 5 minutes of cooking for a more substantial meal.

Roasted butternut, coriander and coconut soup

Makes 6 large bowls, takes about an hour

vegetarian / vegan / dairy free / gluten free / soup / party / nothing fancy / easy peasy / on a budget / autumn / winter

In this colourful soup, I like the smokier flavour you get from roasting the butternut first. Lemongrass is coveted for its magical detoxifying properties, and squash is an excellent source of vitamin A, which promotes a healthy immune system. Yippee.

* Butternut - 1 large, seeds removed and roughly cut into 5cm chunks (feel free to substitute with other types of squash or pumpkin. You want about 1kg of flesh)

* Olive oil

* Onion - 1 large, peeled and diced

* Garlic - 3 cloves, peeled and sliced

* Lemongrass - 1 tbsp ground (of course fresh would be better - it's difficult to get hold of in my Paris neck of the woods!)

* Ginger - a thumb sized piece, peeled and finely chopped

* Chilli - 1 medium red, seeds removed and finely sliced

* Salt - 2 tsps (If using unsalted/homemade stock, otherwise halve this)

* Coriander - 1 bunch, stalks and leaves separated

* Celery - 1 stick, chopped (Optional. Throw it in if you have it)

* Carrots - 4 large, cleaned and sliced

* Coconut milk - 1 can

* Vegetable stock - 500ml

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C.

Lay the butternut in a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the onion, garlic, spices, celery, carrots and coriander stalks in a large pan with a glug of olive oil on a medium heat. After a few minute, lower the heat, cover the pan and leave to sizzle, stirring occasionally. Add a splash of water if things start to stick.

When the butternut is tender, remove it from the oven and add to the pan. Mix well, then add the coriander leaves, coconut milk and stock. There should be enough liquid to just cover the vegetables comfortably. If you're short, add some extra stock or water. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes, covering the pan.

Finally, remove the pan from heat and blend the soup using a hand held blender. Taste for seasoning - add more salt or chilli according to taste.

Here I've served it with some pumpkin cornbread muffins and a simple carrot salad (grated carrots with ground and fresh coriander, a grating of fresh ginger, sesame oil and lime juice).


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