Chef's table: try January

Alex Rushmer suggests resolving to expand your culinary horizons and try more recipes

In comparison to the indulgence of Christmas and new year, the food of January is always going to seem austere and dull. Even well-chosen and perfectly cooked dishes are destined to appear wanting when compared with roast meats, rich puddings, mince pies for breakfast, several dozen Quality Street green triangles and a near endless supply of Stilton. And that’s before a single resolution has been made.

My view is that it’s an irony of cruel and unusual proportions that new year is, in fact, the very worst time to make resolutions. After the decadence of December, the pendulum swing to ascetic misery strains even the most resolute and po-faced puritan. What’s more, the dark days, terrible weather and general post-festivity blues make this time of year grim enough without the additional burden of closing off several avenues of pleasure. Followed by the inevitable soul-bashing when your resolve cracks and you eat half a Curly Wurly on a miserable Monday on the third week of the year. 

It is far better for body and mind – and psychologically much more beneficial – to resolve in a positive way, rather than a negative one. To decide to make more of a commitment to do something rather than a stern promise to abstain or avoid something else. With this approach there is no moment of failure, no single weak point that feels as if it has undone all the good work you’ve put in until the instant only a glass of Rioja would do, despite nearly a month of sobriety. 

'To cook a new recipe from one of the cook books that line the shelves

It is far easier to succeed, for example, in a decision to eat more vegetables than one which creates a sense of loss: to stop eating cheese, for instance. Not only does this shift the focus of the mind, it also allows for a continual sense of achievement – every time you succeed in eating some broccoli – rather than putting intense focus and pressure on a single moment and creating a fear of failure of even the smallest wavering. 

This year I’ll be repeating a resolution my wife and I made last January: to cook a new recipe from one of the dozens of cookbooks that line the shelves in our kitchen. Each week we took it in turns to pick a book and then the other chose a recipe – we then had a few days to collect ingredients and cook the recipe for Monday night. 

After dinner we would repeat the exercise, this time with the roles reversed. Not only did it make us more conscious of what we were eating, but also expanded our cooking into areas and regions we might not otherwise have considered. As an unapologetic collector of cookbooks, a great many get ignored or forgotten after an initial flourish of excitement. I remember reading a few years ago that, on average, we cook just two recipes from every book on the shelf – this is our small effort to increase the number, even if only a little. 

With long summer nights and bright mornings still months away, it seems important to make the most of the cosiness and darkness and, for me, food is the best way to do that. There are several other months of the year when salad and sobriety are achievable goals, when the pursuit of those won’t impact too negatively on one’s psyche. Why not wait for just a little longer? At least until the clocks change.