For some time I have been skiing “off-piste” when it comes to cooking. For a while I have been thinking I need to start writing down some of my recipes developed this way. This has become more pressing to me, as I haven’t been able to recover my recipes for banana or date loaf. I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually. But, I reckon that the way I will manage this is to post blogs as I develop new recipes, and refine these, and link to them from here.
My cookery began as a kid, helping my mum in the kitchen, especially for Sunday dinner. When I was an adolescent, I used to have to cook things for myself, because after my dad closed his shop, my parents were out teaching most evenings, and my mum would leave stuff for me to cook when I got home from school. That was the start of my culinary explorations.
When I left home and went to university, this all prepared me quite well, and I learned to expand my horizons beyond grilling, frying and boiling to spaghetti bolognese, steak & kidney stew, and English-style curry. Moving to St. Paul’s in Bristol, cooking chinese food and attempts at vegetarianism extended my repertoire. But, it would be many years before I was in a position to afford roasts.
Visits to India and to Spain were the main impetus for me to try and replicate more authentic cuisine. I worked my way through Madhur Jaffrey, and began to learn how to follow recipe books more thoroughly. When I lived in Acton, I would spend 4-5 hours preparing Indian meals, starting from grinding my own spices upwards.
As the years passed, I began to follow French and Italian cookery books, and I spent a year in a community working in a kitchen one week in two, where I would cook for 50 people every day. This bought cooking to a new level for me, and although the fare was in keeping with Franciscan simplicity, once in a while we were given free reign, and I would be able to prepeare an Indian meal that was as authentic as possible for 20-25 people. I also learned how to cook roast dinners for 50 people, and bake bread using fresh yeast in the dough.
I think that one thing that stayed with me from that time is that preparing and serving food is a soul-full exercise. It is a spiritual discipline in its own right, as is hospitality and sharing food. This is something that is intrinsic to many cultural traditions, but which has become lost to much of Western culture with fast-food and ready-meals. Good food, not necessarily expensive, is what feeds us in more ways than providing physical nourishment; it feeds our spirit.
Over the next few years, I extended the range of my cooking, but also started to cook from memory, or deviate from recipes to try and elaborate on them. Then I came across Jamie Oliver’s recipes, which came at a time when I was becoming rather stale and repetitive in my cookery. What struck me about some of his recipes, and his approach, was that he could have been cooking what I cooked already. So, his recipes were like what I was already doing, but extended what I could already do in different ways. It also gave me the confidence to experiment more.
A lot of my cooking now is determined by what is available to me. Especially since moving to New Zealand, where mostly, food is more expensive than in the UK. So, we buy whatever meat is on offer in the store, vegetables that are available and in season, either at the market or grocery, or things that come from the garden we have been planting. That way, presented with a set of possible ingredients, I try to work out what I want to do with them.
This starts me with the first recipe I came up with for this section:
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