No, I’m not talking about sticking vegetables in dodgy places where the sun doesn’t shine – just thought I’d clear that up!
I’m talking about reconnecting with food at a primal level. We are so obsessed with the nutritional value of food that it’s become difficult to truly enjoy and celebrate it any more.
Yes, without question, it’s good to know what you are eating and where your food comes from. But it’s so much more fun and valuable to go into the kitchen and just stop, stand still, take a deep breath in and slowly breathe out…and get primal with the food you’re about to make:
1 – Smell the ingredients you’re about to use:
Does the fruit smell juicy, ripe and ready to burst with tangy sweetness?
Do the vegetables still smell like they’ve just been picked from your mother’s, or your grandmother’s, garden?
Do these smells bring back any fond memories?
Can you resist taking a cheeky bite while you’re chopping it up?
Do you really want to resist taking a cheeky bite? No? Go ahead it you want to, I won’t tell anyone, promise 😉
When it is all cooking, can you smell how the ingredients are changing as they break down to create the meal you’re trying to make? For example, carrots and onions become sweeter, especially if cooked gently and slowly – have you ever smelt them as they become sweeter?
Smelling the food you’re preparing not only tickles your tastebuds, but it brings you back to the present and helps to start to give you a quiet moment to yourself, maybe even for the first time today.
2 – Feel everything:
How firm are the ends of those aubergines and courgettes? Firm with a slight spring to them means they’re going to be amazing – soft, and they’re on their way out, but still perfectly edible.
Feel the hard crust of bread and the soft loaf inside – is the loaf still warm from an oven?
Have you ever plunged your hand into a bag of grains like Amelie? That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, just to feel what it’s like.
This might all seem like simple stuff – yes, it is simple. There’s beauty in simplicity. Why make life more complicated than it already is?
3 – How does it all look to you?
Are the greens richly green?
Are the reds deeply red?
Are the yellows brightly yellow?
Is the white creamy and mellow?
When it’s all cooking, have you watched the excess liquids bubble away, or the colours change in the ingredients as they cook?
Arranging food on a plate can make it look tasty, or artistic, or not, as the case may be.
Medieval aristocracy took great pains to show off their wealth by having extravagant sugar sculptures called “sotiltees” (subtleties) that would be brought forward to the table to “warn” everyone that dinner was about to be served.
Cooking for your partner and kids on a Tuesday night however, when you might have been at work all day with new shoes you haven’t worn in yet that have pinched and rubbed all day, might mean that you just dish it out as it comes.
It’s okay, don’t worry about it.
By that time of day, I’m pretty sure everyone just wants to sit down, eat and unwind.
Arranging food is great fun when you have the time and inclination, but that bit of curly parsley won’t be missed tonight.
(Quick tip: if you really want to arrange the food quickly, try using odd numbers of portions and arranging them relatively equally – like meat, potatoes and veg taking up a third of the plate each; fish and rice taking up half the plate each with pickles dolloped in the middle; 4 kinds of fruits in quarters of the plate with a scoop of ice cream in the middle, topped with syrup/honey and flaked almonds…Ooooooh ice cream…)
4 – Listen to the ingredients as they are cooking
Have you ever listened to food as it’s cooking?
We all know that Rice Krispies will Snap, Crackle and Pop, and the mini-explosions that each popping corn makes turning itself inside out to make popcorn, but there’s more to it all if you take a moment mid-recipe to stop, and listen.
Have you heard the slight difference in how food sizzles when you’re sautéing it?
Water and/or fat makes it crackle and splutter when the pan is hot, but simmering away the liquids in tomatoes when making a pasta sauce is a gentler sound, and the sound changes again once all the liquid has simmered away.
Recently on a tv cookery show, there was a blind chef who said that she knows when a sponge for a sponge cake is nearly ready because she listens out for it’s low whistle. It’s true – I hear it myself when I make mini-cupcakes in my mini-cupcake machine.
It’s this machine that sits on the countertop: you put in the mixture into mini-cupcake holders, put those holders into the machine, and press it down like those sandwich grilling machines.
(Those little parcels of joy to the right of the machine are little bakewell tart mixtures, all lined up in mini-cupcake holders, all ready to bake!)
After about 5 minutes, theres this low, quiet whistle that the sponges make – I think it might be the air escaping from them after the mixture has rapidly expanded or something similar – when the whistling stops, I wait another 30-60 seconds for the tops to seal before opening the machine up to take out those mini-cupcakes. Without those last 30-60 seconds, the mini-domes collapse, and it’s always a sad sight when the dome of a cake, bread or soufflé collapses.
Give it a try next time you’re cooking something – it’s not just for Rice Krispies!
5 – Taste it as you go!
Take that cheeky bite you can’t resist.
Take a spoon and taste what you’re cooking.
Grab a fork and take a bit of rice or pasta you’re cooking.
It’s the easiest and most delightful way of learning how different ingredients taste at different stages of cooking, and it will help you to learn when your meal is really ready.
Most cookbooks and recipes give instructions on how long you’re meant to boil something, or how long something is meant to roast in the oven and so on.
The trouble with those instructions is that they don’t take into account that different cookers, different hobs and different ovens will have a different effect on how your food is cooking. For example, through trial and error, I’ve learnt that my oven is really pathetic and requires another 5 minutes on top of any instructions given for meats to cook through properly, and the front left hob on the cooker is crazy strong and will cause lots of burning if I don’t keep a sharp eye, ear and nose on it.
The best cookbooks and recipes are the ones that also describe how the food is meant to look, smell and taste at different stages of cooking, so that you can judge for yourself how far off the mark you are with it. Julia Child’s immortal tomes, “ Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, does just this; so does Marcella Hassan’s “The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”.
But if you still find that you’re lost with the food and don’t know if it’s completely correct as per instructions – it’s okay.
Does it taste good enough for you? Perfect.
Do you need a drink? Go get a glass of your favourite and relax with your family.
Enjoy yourself. That’s all that matters.