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.”
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.