Thursday, March 18, 2010

(Despite All The Evidence To The Contrary...snigger) I Am Never Going To Be A TV Chef

Tonight’s dinner was, again, a disaster.  Salmon, hash browns and peas.  Doesn’t sound that complicated does it?  Only a numpty would explode the salmon into tiny flakes over every surface of the microwave, incinerate the hash browns and complete this culinary masterpiece with peas of a mushy consistency, yet which still have the audacity to retain frozen cores.
What has happened to me?  I used to be quite a good cook.  I could rustle up a decent three course offering without too much sweat, to (modestly) rave reviews, and never once inadvertenly poisoned guests who dined with me.  I couldn’t claim to be my generation’s answer to Fanny Craddock but I was a dab hand in the kitchen and quietly confident when catering for all manor of my friend’s discerning palates.
This is no longer the case.
There are two contributing factors to my culinary demise.  
One is the move to America.  
When we first moved here we invited various new acquaintances to dinner in an effort to get to know people and I slaved over a hot stove for a few hours in an effort to produce concoctions that Americans would rave over.  You would think that with the gargantuan proportions typically served in restaurants, our guests would have appetities to match.  Well, I thought so.  But it was never the case.  
The piece de resistance for all my dinner parties was always...pudding.  In my experience, irrespective of how many courses are served prior to dessert, and how much alcohol has been consumed during the meal, most English people can always find room for pudding.  “Oh go on then” they would acquiese.  “I shouldn’t...but that homemade lemon tart/chocolate bread and butter pudding/tiramasu looks far too good to go to waste.  Just serve me a little bit.”  And, as quick as you like, the first portion would be polished off without hitting the sides and there would typically be demands for an encore.
Not so with the Americans.
This was a little galling.  
We were under a lot of pressure not to do the ‘American thing’ and pile on the pounds.  So having a vast quantity of rich, highly calorific temptations in the fridge, begging to be devoired whenever we ventured within a 10ft radius of its stainless steel prison, was not going to help us avoid becoming the ridicule of our pals back home.
Ultimately, we ended up going out to dinner to socialise, like most of our American friends.  As a result I now have a professional ranking in eating good food.  However, somewhere along the way I have definitely slipped way down the rankings in the ability to produce something verging on edible myself.
The second contributing factor is, of course, having children.
You may have mistaken me for Chicago’s answer to Annabel Karmel in the early days.  Most nights were a blur of steaming every variety of vegetable known to man and pureeing them to perfection.  The freezer was stocked with hundreds of multi-coloured ice cubes of frozen cordon bleu toddler nutrition.  I added herbs and spices to educate my little darlings’ blossoming taste buds.  Nothing was too much trouble when catering for my children’s earliest eating experiences.
Yet despite all this painstaking grafting in the kitchen, my ungrateful offspring duly gravitated to a preference for bland meals, demanding absolutely nothing with sauce and heaven forbid different items of food actually intermingle and - gasp, horror - touch one another.  My journey into the world of the chicken nugget and fish finger had begun.
This year is going to be different, I thought.  Nutrition is going to be back on the menu.  They will eat an adult meal, so help me God.
So I bought a slow cooker.  This was surely the answer to my prayers.
I had been eyeing them from a distance for a while.  My aversion to making a purchase wasn’t due to a dislike for all things casseroley, but purely because for the past year I have made every effort not to purchase anything with an electrical cord.  It seemed such a waste of money to buy something that I would only be able to make use of for a short period of time, before having to resell it for peanuts or give it away when I moved back to the UK.
A conversation with a friend finally nailed it.  “Oh you must get one”, she enthused.  “It’s a piece of cake to use!  And the kids love it.  Really.”
Oh really?
I forgot to factor into this particular recommendation that I am not producing meals for her children to eat though, am I?  And the ‘piece of cake’ should have acted like an early warning flare too.  Cooking I might once have had a flair for...but my cakes were always shit.
Anyway, on a whim I bought the slow cooker.  And a few weeks later I took it out of its box.  And a few weeks after that I washed it carefully in warm soapy water, as per the instructions.  And a couple of weeks after that I bunged a few organic ingredients in it, turned it on ‘low’ and left the house quite curious as to what was going to greet me when I returned home.
That’s the best description for it.  I have since created several varieties, colours and textures of sludge - with just a few minutes of preparation each time.  There has been chicken flavoured sludge and beef flavoured sludge.  And once, in a moment of recklessness, even curry flavoured sludge.  But mostly it is, undeniably very healthy and organic, sludge.
I’m not sure where I am going wrong.  I guess maybe now is the time to follow an actual recipe, rather than maintain the hit and miss what-the-hell-do-I-have-defrosted-and-are-there-any-vegetables-in-the-fridge-without-brown-edges-and-looking-a-little-less-than-limp approach?
Hence the necessary return to the dessimated salmon, charcoaled potatoes and frozen petit pois.
What do you think?  Are there any slow cooker freaks out there able to point me in the right direction?  
And if anyone regularly cooks for a friend or family member without a full set of reliable teeth...I have a freezer full of vaguely palatable sludge that you are more than welcome to take off my hands.  Or I could come and cook up a batch of salmon flakes.  It’s no bother.  Really.  


  1. There are a variety of easy and excellent slow cooker recipes on, and what's lovely is that they're rated with comments by users. So you can find those that will be sludge and those that won't. I love cooking with a slow cooker and really need to get back to it. One key piece is to NOT use all that much liquid in it, at all. The nature of the cooking keeps things very moist.

  2. Can't help you with the slow cooking I'm afraid (too many memories of student days), but why not grill the salmon instead of microwaving it? Much easier to control and still uses no extra fat etc. With a squeeze of lemon on the top before hand, it even tastes good!

  3. No idea bout slow cookers. But agree that my cooking has gone to pot (ha ha) since cooking for my kids. Bland is the name of the game here and it is so dull. But now I can't cook anything for adults at all. Having a total cooking confidence crisis. Nice to know that it isn't just me - and after your post I won't be buying a slow cooker.

  4. Totally with you about cooking. Gawd knows what I'd do if I ever had to cook for another adult on a permanent basis ( highly unlikely) I get into a state if my mother comes to stay.It's amazing how easily your confidence and juggling goes so quickly when you are out of practice.
    I used to have a slow cooker- many many moons ago. I stopped using it after the bones in the chicken pieces in it disintegrated once- yuk! :0(
    Good luck. ;0)

  5. I am still laughing at the exploding salmon because it sounds like something I would do. You are lovely ;).

    We had a slow cooker when I grew up and I loved it. It's great for stewing fruit such as rhubard and apple and even better for chunky meat casseroles.

    What is it with kids and bland food? Despite my nutritional efforts, my older son stil dislikes ANY sauce, seasoning or intermingling and always likes the blandest thing on the menu. It was a triumph to get him to eat gravy, stuffing and skin with his chicken. On the plus side, it also meant he took an instant dislike to crisp, chips, burgers and fizzy drinks from an early age. Result!

    Younger son is more varied in his diet and would happily claim he is allergic to ALL fruit. He does eat bolognese, home made pizza and (culinary gasp, fish fingers). Last week, I introduced them to proper fish in breadcrumbs and they wolfed it down. Mind you, it was about 4 times the price of the fish fingers, but worth it.

  6. Chicken thighs, skinned and browned.
    potatoes, chunked (is that a culinary measure?)
    mushrooms, halved
    half an onion, sliced
    frozen peas and sweetcorn
    handful of mangetout or sugar snaps
    can of chopped tomatoes and can of condensed mushroom soup over the top.
    Switch on. Leave house. Return to lumpy chicken tomato mush. Sweetcorn always stays intact.

    That is the only recipe I ever cooked in my slow cooker. For 18 years (it was the first thing I tried and received a single complement on it. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it). Whilst you were serving up gourmet three course meals for 12 and introducing me to goats cheese and cranberry salads.

    Perhaps you left your chef's hat in Blighty...

    Love you, whatever flavoured mush you serve... xx

  7. Ooh that sludge sounds foul! Kabbalah Rookie sounds like they know what they're doing. Have a go at that and report back, maybe with photos?!

  8. I've never used a slow cooker - and I bet if I did I'd end up with sludge too (knowing my knack for ruining anything that involves too much technical skill).

    I'm with Potty Mummy though - grill the salmon. I like to marinate it in (bought) teriyaki sauce then place on foil and grill for about 7-8 mins. Very easy and delicious. I do this for grownup supper but the boys love chicken teriyaki - just marinate the chicken and then fry up with a little garlic. And these are very fussy boys....

  9. We grew up with a slow cooker. The food was fab. But I never watched what my mom did. Then the people we bought our last house from left one behind. Only they never left an instruction book. So I never used it. And eventually my husband got pissed off with having it take up space so he said: Use it or lose it, and I lost it.

    So I am as useful to you as tits on a bull really. But I thought I'd let you know that today I recreated (or attempted to) boeuf bourguignon as per the Julia Child's recipe featured in Julie and JUlia. I have taken pics and will create a blog about it, just as soon as it comes out of the oven and I can give a verdict on it's edibility.

  10. I loved my slow cooker (it's just died a death). I started off being very unadventurous, and using a recipe book, but gradually branched out. The key is to use almost no liquid.

    The thing that depressed me about my slow coooker was when a friend reminded me about the bit in Bridget Jones when her mother buys her a slow cooker, and the whole joke is how her mother thinks she has half an hour in the morning to pop some tasty and nutritious ingredients in, whereas of course her mornings are all about getting over hangovers and getting into work looking half-way presentable. It was a sad reflection of my life that (a) I have become Bridget's mother whereas I used to be Bridget, and (b) I didn't even remember that bit in the book.

    I really went off my slow cooker at that point, but I came to love it again.

  11. Borrow a good slow cooker recipe book from the library. It really is easy to do.

  12. No slow cooker here, just a very small but edible menu that gets rotated every few days. Pasta, baked potatoes and rice with a vegetable and hopefully a bit of protein in some form or other.
    No domestic goddess in the kitchen at the mo.
    Will start to make an effort in a few years after Uni.

  13. I think slow cookers are the ultimate socialist kitchen appliance - doesn't matter what goes in, it all comes out the same. It's the great leveler.

  14. I feel your pain. My husband, with his infinite wit, calls my cooking Cordon Bleugh.

    I enjoy cooking, I'm just not very good. The slow cooker though has come to my rescue. I find the less is more attitude good.

    This week my favourite recipes have been 'beef not quite stifado' - braising steak (or any other steak/beef that takes forever to cook), 2 tins of tomatos, some mixed herbs, tomato paste, beef stock cube, salt & pepper. Chuck them in, leave for hours, serve with rice. Yum.

    The other one is ham shank (or gammon, lamb, the principle is the same) - chuck it in with water, pepper & a veg stock cube. Serve with chips or mash.

    Voila - you're a gourmet!

  15. Slow cooking an anethema in our house when anything you do serve is wolfed down in seconds. I'd like to say because it is so good but actually it's because they are just so darned hungry all the time! Some of those recipes do sound rather tempting though...

  16. I don't have a slow cooker but I don't think it's supposed to look like sludge!

  17. Hi - can't see Twitter/Email link but just to let you know you've been nominated for a MAD! You're up for the Funniest MAD Blog award -



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  20. I've managed to create some highly edible things in the slow-cooker. The trick is braising the meat first. After that, you're golden!