I tend to greet the first month of the year less than enthusiastically.

I am wont to feel a little bitter about the end of the holidays and the return to routine (as a friend recently said on a Tuesday morning, “where are my pancakes? Where is my bacon?”) and I cringe at the thought of dark mornings and foul weather stretching out two or three more months.

But, now that we’re well into February, I have to tell you that the last day of January this year filled me with nearly as much hopeful enthusiasm as I felt for the first. And the seasonal ennui that usually causes my body to demand bread and butter and cheese, in such quantities that every meal feels like a battle of wills, has been largely absent.

I know that this is at least partly because the temperatures in our city have regularly crept nearly into the double digits (that’s above zero), accompanied occasionally, if bizarrely, by enough snow for my children to get their 45-minute fill of snow-angel-making and snowman-building. I went running outdoors last week in cropped pants, and left my coat open on an afternoon walk with my husband.

So the weather has helped.

But the first several weeks of 2012 have also flown by very quickly, a fact for which I am extremely grateful.

I can actually barely remember the first 14 days or so, which were taken up by my attempt at a January cleanse.

(I have nothing good to say about that experience, unsurprisingly, except that now that I am back to eating and drinking normally, if not with abandon, each meal seems to bring with it a fresh opportunity to consume something delicious.)

But aside from that brief donning of the proverbial hair shirt, my resolutions for the new year have taken a while to take hold, as they usually do.

And I know you know me well enough by now that, despite its title, you aren’t expecting any kind of crisp, leafy goodness from this post

(indeed, you could be forgiven if you are not welling up with enthusiasm for the dish you see photographed here. The ravenous hordes – my husband and I – had been waiting for it to come out of the oven for what felt like far too long for me to do its gloriousness any kind of photographic justice last night, and to be fair, it actually didn’t look any better the next day when I put slightly more effort into trying again.

And if all of that doesn’t make you want to spring into action, I understand completely, but I will still heartily encourage you to make this dish. It’s that good, if not that pretty).

What I can offer up is winter comfort food at its finest, a little bit lavish but not enough to irrevocably derail any food-related resolutions you may, like me,  have high-mindedly made a few weeks ago.

A kind of quasi-fresh start, if you will.

Onward, February!

Mediterranean Deep Dish

I have to stop short of calling this a pizza, but pizza is what I had in mind when making it. I was in a rush, though, so needed to rethink the crust completely, which led me to a lovely old stand-by dish of Nigella’s called Supper Onion Pie.

For the filling:

3 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
425g lean ground lamb
1 yellow pepper, finely chopped
a handful (about a cup) of fresh baby spinach leaves
3-4 tbsp sundried tomato pesto
salt and pepper, to taste
225g soft goat cheese

For the crust:

1 2/3c whole spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
scant 1/2c milk
1/4c olive oil or melted butter
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium – high heat. Add onions and saute until softened, then add garlic. Cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant, just a minute or two; then add lamb to the pan. Cook, stirring, until lamb is no longer pink. Transfer lamb mixture and any accumulated juices to a bowl and set aside.

Add pepper to pan and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes, until slightly tender. Transfer to bowl with lamb mixture; add spinach leaves and toss gently. Add pesto and toss well to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly.

Spread this filling into a 10-inch cast iron skillet or deep-dish pie plate. Top with goat cheese.

Now, onto the crust. I made mine in the food processor because I was feeling very pressed for time, but mixing it by hand would also be no trouble at all. Sift together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a smaller bowl and whisk well to combine. Stir wet ingredients into dry, just until a firm but sticky dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a round roughly the same size as your pan. Gently transfer dough onto filling and press firmly on the edges to seal.

Bake in 400 degree oven 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 350 degrees and cook a further 10-15 minutes, until crust is golden and firm.

Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate.

girl food.

My daughter adores pink.

Not only is she enamoured of the colour; she is quite convinced that pink is for girls ONLY.

Whenever she tells us that, in her stern, unwavering 3-year-old’s voice, my husband and I duly remind her that there is nothing saying boys can’t also enjoy the beauty of pink, just as girls can sometimes be fond of blue, etc. etc.

While we try to be earnest and attentive when we have this conversation, and our aim overall is to discourage the division of likes and dislikes along gender lines, most of the time we’re content as long as we manage not to encourage it.

And in fact, to be honest with you, often our efforts even in that department are a little half-assed.

Last night, I made the roasted beets you see above. I may have mentioned that my daughter is not inclined to try new foods, and that vegetables are particularly problematic; so I thought I had hit the jackpot when I realized that beets are – yes! – a pink food.

Her eyes widened slightly when I pointed this out.

“Mama,” she said, “does that mean that beets are GIRL food? For girls ONLY?”

My answer came instantly and unflinchingly: “Yes, darling, they are.”

Beets for Girls ONLY

The above photo was taken without the goat cheese topping, because frankly the dish looks a little better that way, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how much better it tastes after it’s been slathered in goat cheese, butter and fresh herbs!

2 bunches beets, peeled and quartered (reserve beet greens for another use)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4c soft goat cheese
2 tbsp soft unsalted butter
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss beets and olive oil and place in a shallow oven-proof dish. Roast for about 20 minutes, until just barely tender.

While beets are roasting, mash together goat cheese, butter and salt until combined. Stir in tarragon.

Dollop goat cheese mixture over beets and continue to roast a further 10 minutes or so, until beets are quite tender and cheese it golden in parts.

Serves 3-4 as a side dish.