For me, cooking has always been a great way to boost my emotional health. Getting in the kitchen and experimenting, challenging myself to make dinner with what’s left in the fridge, or cooking for friends brings me a great deal of joy.

So it’s definitely something I use as an #EmotionalHealthBoost and as a booster shot to kick-start my Performance-Confidence-Motivation cycle when it’s flagging.

But which foods I’m actually cooking with, and whether choosing those more carefully could have an even more beneficial effect wasn’t ever something I thought about. Until, that is, I went along to an event run by the Idler on Good Mood Food, hosted by author Rachel Kelly and consultant psychiatrist Dr Pratima Singh.

Their argument was that we should be looking at a more holistic approach to treating mental illness, mentioning the shocking fact that 1/3 of people don’t respond to antidepressants, but that no one is researching new ones. We all know that improved diet and regular exercise has a positive effect on our physical (particularly our cardiovascular) health, but in both Rachel’s personal experience with severe depression and in Dr Singh’s experience with her patients, these changes can also have a profound (and almost immediate) positive effect on a person’s mental health.

Rachel’s new cookbook The Happy Kitchen is based on that idea – developed over five years with the help of a nutritional therapist, it provides a host of tasty recipes based on foods that are scientifically proven to help improve mood.

And speaking of tasty recipes, here at the Virtual Snug we’re going to be giving you a sneak peek of some of them over the next few weeks as part of Mood Food Friday! Try them out as a double-whammy of emotional health boosting – enjoying the process of cooking as a break from whatever is getting you down, and knowing the meal itself is doing you (and any lucky people you cook it for) good.

To kick off, just in time to inspire you for the weekend, why not try making Rachel’s amazing iron-rich steak salad? It comes from the first chapter of the book, containing recipes for balanced energy (we all know the lethargy and demotivation of a sugar crash).

Let us know if you enjoy cooking it, and if you have any foods you turn to in times of need!



From The Happy Kitchen by Rachel Kelly and Alice Mackintosh

Alice used to find it quite hard to cook steak, but this method (inspired by Nigella Lawson) keeps it deliciously tender. The marriage between the iron-rich steaks, the colourful salad, the zingy horseradish, and the creamy feta cheese are perfect. I use artichokes and sundried tomatoes from my local supermarket’s deli counter, which saves a lot of time. Be sure not to buy artichokes soaked in vinegar, though, as the flavour will overpower the salad. If possible, use grass-fed steak, which contains more nutrients than intensively farmed beef.


Serves 2


For the dressing:

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon crème fraîche

1 teaspoon horseradish sauce

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon olive oil


2 x 250g rump steaks – ideally around 3cm thick.


For the marinade:

Handful parsley, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Juice and zest of ½ lemon

4 drops Tabasco sauce (optional)


For the salad:

80g flat-leaf parsley, chopped

6 sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped

4 artichoke hearts, quartered

100g rocket, washed and drained

8 red radishes, thinly sliced

70g feta cheese, crumbled

4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds (optional)

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)


  1. First make the dressing by combining all the ingredients and shaking them together in a jar.
  2. Trim the harder fat off the steaks, brush with oil and season both sides with salt.
  3. Heat a griddle or heavy-based pan, and add the meat once hot. Cook for 4 minutes on each side. If you prefer your steak well done, then leave for another 1−2 minutes on each side.
  4. Meanwhile, make the marinade. Whisk together all the ingredients in a dish big enough to accommodate the cooked steaks.
  5. Place the steaks in the marinade for 8 minutes, turning them halfway through. Then remove them to a board and slice them thinly on the diagonal.
  6. While the meat rests, combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Pour over three-quarters of the dressing and toss everything together.
  7. To serve, place the sliced steak on a bed of the salad and pour over the rest of the dressing. Scatter with toasted pine nuts, if so desired.


Copyright Rachel Kelly 2016