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River Cottage Good Comfort: Best-Loved Favourites Made Better for You

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It becomes tougher sometimes to find the ingredients and turn on the oven - all those things are becoming harder and more expensive. But we still need to do that, because it's what keeps us sane and warm and together."

For him, the challenge was being able to 'healthify' classic comfort dishes - like spag bol, shepherd's pie or crumble - without compromising on the taste. Some dishes took a bit more testing than others. And don't worry - the desserts are still sweet. After all, this is the person who admits to whipping up boxes of chocolates as a child. I'm already onboard with reducing sugar: I find most modern recipes and storebought cakes have far too much sugar for my taste. My cakes, biscuits and puddings mostly come from battered recipe books from decades ago. HFW's other mission is to encourage cooks to use a variety of good ingredients, which is my culinary mission too. But the sweetness is adjusted, and other ingredients are added - such as parsnips or carrots into cakes, or a date syrup instead of a "knee-trembling amount of fudgy toffee". For the duration of that meal, everybody could relax, everybody could tell a story and everyone could smile."Often, it was very hard work, and sometimes it was scary, because food was scarce. I think comfort food comes from that moment when, once in a while, there was enough, there was plenty to go around. And Good Comfort is in every way generous, as Hugh makes our favourite foods healthier, not by taking stuff out of them, but by putting more in: the best whole ingredients, celebrated in all their colourful and seasonal diversity. The book begins with an Introduction. It's the usual cook's philosophy section, which in this case is HFW's mission to recreate comfort foods that are not heavy, cloying, too rich or too sweet. His key principle is 'Go Whole: The more whole, unrefined ingredients we can get on to our plates, the better. But he doesn't just mean the grains and pulses we typically associate with the term 'wholefoods'. He means foods that are whole, or very close to it, when we take them into our kitchens. (I heard these described the other day as 'foods your granny would recognise'.) Minimally processed is ok, so he includes dairy foods such as yoghurt and cheese, and some tinned vegetables (such as low-salt tomatoes canned with just water and a little salt.) He stresses that it's important to get the balance right: overdo the pulses and you're in the danger zone of 'padding'. Likewise, full-on wholemeal flour can take you a little far from textures you know and love, so 'half-wholemeal' is a better choice. But where this book does fall down is in not giving any general advice in the introduction about preferred dairy substitutes, and in which dishes they do and don't work - and in having very few cakes and puddings with vegan options. I don't bother to find fault with older omni cookbooks for being full of dairy with no substitution ideas; it was just the norm before the last few years. But as HFW and River Cottage have already produced a fully vegan book ( Much More Veg), and even early Nigella books happen to contain a few more dairy free or even accidentally-vegan cakes than this one does, I definitely think they could do better in this area.

And Good Comfort is in every way generous, as Hugh makes our favourite foods healthier not by taking stuff out of them, but by putting more in: the best whole ingredients, celebrated in all their colourful and seasonal diversity.

Turn the mixer down to a low speed and, with the motor running, slowly pour in the tepid melted chocolate and butter mixture (or whisk it gently by hand). Use a rubber spatula to scrape the last drops of chocolate into the mix, and then to fold the mixture fully together.

He has just finished filming his most recent series, which accompanies his most recent book, River Cottage Every Day. It was actually spot-on. (As far as is possible, given they don't have a dairy-free book - although there is a gluten-free baking one.) During River Cottage Spring (2008) Hugh helped a group of Bristol families start a smallholding on derelict council land.This is all part of the 57-year-old chef and food writer's mission to get us eating a bit more healthily - and that doesn't mean you have to miss out on your favourite, stodgy comfort foods. Tip the spuds into the pan. If they aren't already mashed, crush them roughly with a fork or masher, but keep the texture quite chunky. Let the heat penetrate the potatoes for a minute or two then add all the other veg, and any herbs or flavour bombs, with a little more seasoning. Stir together then press the whole lot down into a rough cake. Actually, we can have both on the same plate and both in the same dish. We can enjoy treats, foods that are really well balanced - they've got lots of good things in them. Often that means a few little tweaks, and sometimes there are some bigger tweaks, but it's all very doable."

We shouldn't be guilt-tripping people into eating healthy food, we should be tempting people to healthy food," he says. A talented writer, broadcaster and campaigner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is widely known for his uncompromising commitment to seasonal, ethically produced food and has earned a huge following through his River Cottage TV series and books.

It can be whipped up easily (and on demand) from store-cupboard ingredients. Briefly baked until set on the outside but still gooey in the middle, it is excellent served with some fruit to cut the richness.” Put the chocolate and butter into a saucepan and melt gently over a very low heat, watching all the time and stirring often so that the chocolate doesn't get too hot. Set aside to cool a little. Preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas 5 and butter a small oven dish.

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