On The Plate: A stocktake of resolutions
Not everyone goes through the annual rigmarole of making resolutions for the New Year – I certainly don’t.
But to kick off a new decade, I resolved to try out a new recipe each week – and so far haven’t broken my secret little pact with myself! As we enter the first quarter of the year it’s customary for businesses, corporations and their boards to take stock and see if the KPIs and various fiscal aspirations, mission statements and other objectives are on track. Well, I’m kind of doing the same thing – but the focus is on my culinary aspirations!
I once visited a regional food festival at which one of the main drawcards was celebrity chef Gabriel Gate. Naturally a huge crowd had gathered round to hang on every single, gloriously sexy, French accented word of advice Gabriel had to give to his adoring audience. He really does have a most infectious and slightly naughty “Heh, heh, heh giggle” – which is very endearing. He also knows a thing or two about cooking and was saying on this occasion, that as cooks or chefs, those of us who make it a profession or career, have the advantage of knowing our repertoire of dishes intimately, simply because we repeatedly make these dishes hundreds of thousands of times over. We can constantly play around with them, tweaking the ingredients just a little to give a new slant to the overall taste or result, be it in the presentation of the dish, or the variance of spices used. We can often create a whole meal without really consulting a recipe, which generally means that the time spent from start to plating up is streamlined and quick.
I was reflecting the other evening while preparing dinner, that for many people, coming up with three meals per day, every day, plus snacks, treats etc can be a little overwhelming if cooking is not your “passion”. It can be daunting to find the energy after a busy day, or a sleep deprived night, to front up to the stove and get cracking – there’s often no letting up. I can only suggest or hope that the load is one that is shared by all in the household – hopefully someone takes on the task of shopping, someone to stow produce away, someone to help chop, stir, and bake, and a roster of folk to take care of the washing up! Please tell me I’m not dreaming for this to be an actuality!
My “stocktake” this week centred the dual aspiration of exploring a new recipe each week, and then rating it as a ‘keeper’ or not. Are you like me, constantly tearing out a recipe that catches your eye from a magazine, carefully squirreling it away in a drawer or folder – never to clap eyes on it again? I confess, I am constantly souveniring recipes –and now I do actually try them out.
More often than not the new dish makes a very welcome change from the routine menu we often seem to cling to week in week out – allowing for seasonal variations, of course! It has been said in some households that “It must be Tuesday, ‘cos we’re having lamb chops”. Well I say, break out of that routine and at the same time expand on your own culinary skills by trying out a new recipe today!
By doing this, as Gabriel Gate said, you do become a much better cook. You move away from all the tried and true dishes you’ve been making for years, and along the way gain new skills, explore new tastes, and investigate new or unusual-to-you cuisines. Here’s one for starters – totally tantalising tofu! “What!” I hear you say, “how can tofu taste any good?” Well believe me this is definitely a dish to try!
Mark Bittman’s recipe for this dish begins by explaining that a favourite Indian dish of his called saag paneer (or panir), made from a particular type of cheese. It is almost a standard dish in many Indian restaurants, particularly northern India. The panir is made by scalding milk and souring it with lemon juice, strained through muslin and allowed to hang to remove the moisture and become quite firm. The Greeks do a similar thing using yoghurt to make labna.