Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Determination and change. (Part 2)

Recipes, like any stories, are subject to variation in and of the telling. I record these efforts at substitution so as not to forget the basic principles. It would be useful to think that this is the setting of an intention in amber. Hence my choice of a 60's style for the picture elements. Umbers, ochres and caramels are comfort colours. Suited to the need for the assurance of end of austerity when first employed, This palette a reminder of softer times. Packed with oils and greases and sugars, my mother's recipe books were as warming as the Raeburn stove they curled upon. Here's to the spirits of Marguerita Patten, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson.

So, intent on removing as many lipids as possible, I set about exploring covered frying. During the process of change, My utensil drawer has rearranged itself. Ironically, I no longer avoid the frying pans and wok. I fry more but 'Fry' less as it were.
Similarly, my initial attempts at releasing flavour were helped along by my continued dependence on oil. Gradually, I have relinquished my grip on 1-Cal Spray. It still remains a useful adjunct but I use far less now. I am confident that, if tested by Sainsburys, many of my dishes would be marketed as 'Fat Free'.
It is, for example, easy to arrive at 'Fried Onions' (I tend to use Shallots as they are some of the more successful survivors of the dreadful summer) using only tiny additions of water as the vegetables sweat.

The absence of the almost immediate caramelisation that arises from frying in oil allows for the slower, more deliberate tempering of flavours through careful use of the liquids and sugars already locked into vegetables themselves. Here, I have used the onions with peppers and herbs as a base for Paprika Chicken.

Skinning the Shallots is best done warm. I pour boiling water onto them and allow to cool to benign temperature before cutting off the root end and slipping the flesh out of the skins. This is a very satisfactory exercise. Each onion pops out with a small leaf end intact. No cutting required. No tears.

The onions then go into a warm saute pan or frying pan with lid and given an occasional shake over moderate heat. At the first hint of hissing and whiff of onion, I add a small quantity of water. Only a tablespoon or so. This will disappear quickly but, as it does so, it starts the process of self steaming/ sauteing that will continue to caramelisation in time.

As the onions take on a little colour, I add more liquid in the form of any additional veg you may want to incorporate. Here, Red Peppers cut into strips. The lid goes back on and confidence increases. Still no spray required.

Soon, the dish is complete. This, with the addition of fresh herbs, salt and pepper is an excellent accompaniment to whatever.

I went on to reduce it further in this instance. Continue cooking until the onions are soft. The peppers will long since have given up the ghost. Add dried herbs towards the end of this process and slosh in a tin of tomatoes. Tomato puree will thicken even more but it also lends acidity so, unless this is tempered by a fruit I am careful with it. Stir over low heat until roughly smooth.

Chicken breasts, skin removed are placed in a bag with a tablespoon or so of Paprika, a teaspoon of Chilli and a pinch of salt. Shake well and leave to absorb for a few minutes. Here, a choice. Either a quick spray of oil onto a grill pan or the use of the mighty Mushroom (more of his later). Here, I used oil but again, keeping the heat down, the chicken browns and cooks without fuss. You are left with no oil to drain and all flavour intact.

I serve this with plain boiled rice.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Donald McKechnie

Donald belonged in tar.
Black brown wellington top boots
with boot socks, grimed round and
welded to his once dress trousers
tied with twine. Brown baler twine.
He rolled from boot to boot, a shovel
shouldered as a boy's carved rifle good
for nothing more than propping as he cut twist.
I swear his right the thicker wrist
a knife with a curved blade blunt from all the
pigtail shag. He turned his hand
Plugging a gap in pegged teeth.
Donald walked. A roll and twist and halt in left or right
He mended holes in roads with grit left by the lorry boys.
One good eye and that eye not good enough
he turned his look to look at me,
A look from straight beneath the hill. A look that curdled sunlight.
'Now, it is yourself' he'd spit.
'Here, try this now, it's just like liquorice'.

Determination and change (Part 1)

As years advance, I have found a gradual increase in the frequency of monitoring offered by my local Gp services.

Once content to sit and wait for my occasional panicky visits or pleas for compassionate sick notes, they now reach out to me. They have me on alerts for BP monitoring, Peak Flow checks and wellness MOTs for men. There is no escape from my external conscience. I should know. I used to be part of that myself. Issuing offers of health checks to the unwilling. following up with reminders that felt as paternalistic as they did patronising. All the while I was pretty pleased to be contributing to the smooth running of a few people, even as they resisted our attempts to help.

So, I determined to reduce the level of contact. Active health care provision works. I look after myself better in order to minimise contact with my health care team. If this is arse forwards, so be it. I well remember selling sessions on good eating habits to the homeless by suggesting that they may benefit from my future absence as they replace me with a few vegetables. A pitiful 'Five a Day' as I recall.

Being prone to 'Falling to flesh' is a curse for a Bon Viveur. I am a classic Yo-yo dieter, small successes rewarded by 'Holidays' or 'Rewards' leading to further lapses, as resolve takes a nosedive. This time round, I have made some more logical, selfish decisions. No longer willing to engage myself in a familiar conflict between hunger and seemingly unattainable goals there should be no hunger and there should be no discernible goals (plural). Weight loss should be a constant pleasure rather than a chore. Meals must be shareable with those unconcerned by calorie control. There should be no immediate evidence that food is being manipulated into being inoffensive. Taste and substance should be all.

It helps that one of my principle pleasures is in the cooking and serving of food. It would be terrible to embark on this exercise if I had to learn to love the kitchen. Thankfully, experimentation and good teaching have left a rich legacy of cheerful enthusiasm. Musing on this, I found myself recalling early influences. My mother's utter abandon where butter was concerned as well as her unconventionally forward thinking health conscious approach. She was hopeless with chips but understood dairy as if it were hard wired into her arteries. 'Never cook vegetables in more water than you wash them in' and 'Don't worry, I'll sling some Lurpack into it' were her mantras. Conversely, her easy attitude to children's likes and dislikes encouraged my pocket money purchase of frozen peas or mixed vegetables instead of sweets and I was weaned on adult leftovers. Broccoli and Broad Beans were family members. Nothing was out of bounds, singly or in combination. I could bake bread by the time I was tall enough to knead and was happiest with a recipe book propped up as I ate breakfast.

There were few around to comment or criticise, (this came sharply to the fore later, when at senior school and suddenly talking an alien language to other hungry boarders in the small hours, of which more in a separate entry) our meals would certainly have been considered 'exotic' or 'different'. My father too, ventured worldwide for inspiration. Fried eggs came laced with garlic and vinegar, finished with nut brown butter and flipped happily onto tomato sauce puddles as Huevos en Salsa Negra. Curries offered just this side of tolerably hot to the juvenile tongue. Soups served with a substantial handful of porridge oats. Lentils and herbs as a main course. This was home cooking. All the while, 1960's school dinners and friends teatime invites were pretty mundane stuff. Some a blessed, bland relief but most, an unfinished work in progress, halted at 'Boil' or 'Fry' and served with duty not with pleasure.

This was all very well as a foundation for culinary adventure but not great for this boy as he approaches late middle age with a drawer full of trousers that fail to meet themselves around the way. This joyful exuberance must be replaced with a bit of science but no less risk. Ways round must be found. I had to reinvent my systems and forget the fats.