Stephen Jardine: Get back to the kitchen in 2012

THIS is the most difficult column of the year. After a month of feasting, the fridge is empty and the booze cupboard is bare. As we atone for our gluttonous sins, who wants to read about food and drink?

Surely January must be the month we survive on panettone crumbs and coconut water? Well no, actually.

While most people who took part in a survey believed they’d put on 5lb over the festive season, in reality average weight gain is less than one pound. Tests have shown the average pound in weight will stay with us for much of the year, so January crash diets and emergency gym memberships are understandable yet ineffective.

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In these dark and stormy days, salad leaves are the last thing we want, because they are not what our body needs.

Instead, January is a great opportunity to reawaken the great Scottish love affair with soup. Hearty broths were a staple of the Scottish diet for generations.

Food writer Sue Lawrence believes they can bridge the gap between feast and frugality at this time of year. “Food misery,” said Sue, “is a terrible thing, but we can still eat tasty things that make us happy.

This week I made a soup with the leftover contents of the vegetable drawer in the fridge. That included onion, root ginger, celery, potato, spinach, savoy cabbage, sweet potatoes – and I topped my bowl with some grated leftover Locharthur cheddar”.

For those who can’t yet face cooking again, help is at hand. Throughout January, Café Connect in Edinburgh is offering customers unlimited portions of watercress soup for £3.75 to encourage a healthy start to the New Year.

The soup forms part of a diet favoured by celebrities like Liz Hurley, who claim it can satisfy hunger pangs and help with weight loss.

Café Connect is co-owned by nutrionist Nell Nelson, who came up with the unlimited soup idea. “Watercress has emerged in recent years as a super food containing an amazing 15 vital vitamins and nutrients. Not only is the soup low calorie, it is also filling and packed with vitamins, especially vitamin C, which is a real immune system booster and will help keep away any January colds,” said Nell.

To be really effective, the watercress soup diet needs to be followed for three weeks – so what about those of us who can’t face that ?

The supermarkets are full of what claim to be low-fat, fuller longer versions of traditional meals, but Sue Lawrence believes the answer to a nutritious, healthy January lies at home.

Sue suggests: “At this time of year, any combination of root veg with an inexpensive protein is good – so a mound of clapshot with haggis is obvious, but you can take it one step further and do sweet potato mash with black pudding or butternut squash mash with Ayrshire bacon or gooey goats cheese.”

Stephen Jardine is director of Taste Communications