Tag Archive | kitchen notes

Curry for the unadventurous

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Image source: Flickr. Matt Oldfield. The kitchen UWRF13. Wikimedia Commons.

 

Well hello there. My, what a time is has been! We have feasted, we have frolicked and we have made merry. We have roasted, fried, dipped, marinated, drizzled, boiled, crushed, glazed, baked, squeezed and sprinkled until we are fit to burst. I have (ironically) been so busy in the kitchen over the festive period that I haven’t even had time to write about it. The good news is that the fruits of my labours have provided lots of new recipes and tips to tell you all about in time for next year.

But for now, February…

Oh.

As I write this at 4pm the sun is just caressing the horizon, gilding the neighbours’ Cypress tree with warm light. Below, the pond is frozen solid and slivers of frost still linger in the shady patches of ground. This time of year is often undeniably beautiful yet we seem do our best to hate it anyway. In my daily life, I rarely encounter anyone with a good word to say about February. All of the fresh January enthusiasm has faded leaving ice on the car windscreen and a fridge full of wilting salad. I totally understand the compulsion to feel healthy after the splurge of December. I for one am craving apples. I normally hate apples. But I have never got to grips with the whole raw vegetables thing when it below zero outside. Surely, I think, there must be a better way. And I think I have found it in curry.

I would love to know more about cooking curry but have always been held back by the long lists of unfamiliar ingredients involved and a vague terror of making things too spicy. (IBS will do that to you) Despite liking the idea of curry the furthest I was prepared to venture in the past was a mild chicken korma. Even black pepper on my dinner was living wild as far as I was concerned. My husband however can tolerate food so hot that the sales assistant in our local spice shop once speculated that there must be something wrong with him.

Over the last couple of years of cooking together and trying to find a middle ground between our tastes I have gradually increased my tolerance for spice without really knowing it. So much so that the other day while eating one of my standard chicken with super-mild-korma-sauce-from-jar I was actually moved to get up out of my comfy chair to add some extra chilli powder before I even realised what I was doing.

Curry for me embodies everything you need on a cold February day. It’s colourful, warming and can be filled with fresh vegetables. Some ingredients in curries (i.e. ginger) can also be good for battling the dreaded plague demons that regularly beset us fragile mortals at this time of year. (Plus, it sort of looks like witches’ brew and that pleases me greatly. Sometimes it’s all I can do not to cackle manically as I stir a cauldron of bubbling curry on the stove).

So, I propose a quest. An adventure into the world of curry for the chronically unadventurous. Join me as I start by re-tracing my steps through the easy, mild curries that I am familiar with and then boldly venturing into delicious and unchartered realms. I’ll go and get the ingredients, you check back for the start of the quest soon!

(insert manic cackle here)

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Purple Vegetables

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Sometimes I am captivated by the beauty of vegetables. No, wait, hear me out. I know that isn’t the sort of sentence you expect to hear (or say) every day but it really is true. My Mum took me to a farm shop near her when I went to visit this weekend and I walked away with, amongst other things, a purple sweet potato. I have never seen or heard of a purple sweet potato before so naturally I bought it immediately. I have a bit of a thing for unusual purple vegetables. I get unreasonably excited every time purple carrots come into my local supermarket for Halloween, (rebranded as “witches’ noses” of course) and tried one year to grow lilac peppers. (It wasn’t a success – I only managed to grow one and then it was dry and tasteless due to my general neglect and ineptitude) I also can’t seem to shake the bizarre notion that purple vegetables somehow must taste better and be healthier than their more familiar counterparts. When I cut the sweet potato, the swirl of colours was undeniably lovely. I caught myself just staring at it in fascination for several minutes.

I had decided to make chips from it in exactly the same way I do with ordinary potato and sweet potato; namely, cut it into chips, coat with oil, salt, pepper and paprika and bake for half an hour(ish).

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I had hoped that they would taste like a similar, more interesting version of their orange cousins, however I can confirm that this was sadly not the case. They tasted ok but much less sweet than the traditional sweet potato; the dry, earthy taste reminded me more of roasted beetroot than anything. I probably wouldn’t do this recipe again but it was a fun experiment nonetheless. Maybe I can find a better use for them in the future.

Introduction – Putting the “fun” into food intolerance…

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“Cooking without ingredients has never been so easy! Make your own alternatives for the free from lifestyle with no fuss, no calories and no hefty price tag! Buy pure, natural goodness without the natural ingredients! Who said food intolerance wasn’t fun?”

When I first investigated the world of “free from” cooking several years ago in an effort to mitigate the symptoms of chronic illness, little did I anticipate the rabbit hole I was blithely stepping into. I thought that making a few simple changes to my diet would be a piece of cake. (Or no cake at all, as it turned out)

I’ve always been a decent, if fairly homely, cook and I knew a little about wheat-free baking thanks to a housemate of mine so at first, I tried to go it alone. I would be a rebel! A lone wolf! A maverick kitchen crusader, bravely making things up as I went along! That worked for about as long as it takes for a slice of gluten free toast to burn so I did what anyone in my situation these days would do: I sought guidance from the collective knowledge pool.

Anyone consulting the internet for the first time on cooking without a specific ingredient would be forgiven for thinking that food intolerance is somehow an aspirational lifestyle choice. Recipes for free-from cooking are presented in much the same way that all of the other “healthy eating” recipes are; with lots of peppy alliteration, exotic sounding ingredients and beautiful macro photography in an effort to make it all seem ever so appealing.

Most of the websites and blogs I read online seemed either to be one of two distinct breeds. Some were blandly utilitarian; recipe databases or newspaper magazine articles, offering no real insight further than the basic recipe and some buzzy adjectives. The supposedly more personal websites seemed solely to be written by perky super-women who, in my state of frustration and hunger, I found it impossible to relate to. Their advice was generally very good but I was always left feeling wistful and slightly inadequate. Mostly because the recipes I attempted didn’t turn out anything like the beautiful creations in the (suspiciously professional) pictures. The recipe books I consulted were exactly the same. Universally, all of the books and websites chirped about how it was all so easy and simple. They never mentioned the particular kind of despair that comes from having yet another loaf of lovingly prepared organic spelt sourdough sink inexplicably to a flat, inedible brick in the nanosecond you take your eye off it, leaving you without lunch the next day because you cannot eat any of the food in the work cafeteria and the only shop that sells bread you can eat is miles away and it’s just closed for the day.

The essential problem is, most of us are not Superman/woman. Most of us are Clark Kent: tired, busy and on modest incomes. We have families to consider and work to be done. Those of us who need to avoid certain foods for medical reasons may also be feeling ill into the bargain. On a wet Monday morning in February most of us will not be rising at dawn to whip up a 20 ingredient power smoothie before our morning salute to the sun. Most of us would prefer to spend our Sundays relaxing on the sofa rather than batch cooking “energy balls” to take to work that week. What if we don’t enjoy cooking? What if we really just hate quinoa?

I aim to redress the balance. I cannot do anything about those last two questions but as I traverse the treacherous landscape of free from cooking I can log my successes, my failures and all the little tricks experience will teach me along the way. I can talk about what I cook and how I cook it with candour and detail. I can include all of my tips for making life that little bit easier. I can even add a little humour to the mix. I can promise poor quality photography or no photography at all. I can produce dishes that might not look all that great but will probably taste quite nice. I suspect I will annoy everyone by mostly using outdated Imperial measurements. I too will no doubt use more than my fair share of alliteration. I hope that in sharing my experience some stranger somewhere might learn from my mistakes, or simply be comforted by the fact that they are not alone. Oh, and I promise never, ever to be perky.

Note: In writing these recipes I will assume some prior knowledge on the part of the reader of kitchen basics but very little of free-from cooking. I will therefore go into a lot of detail on most recipes.