Thursday, 27 January 2011


Spending the winter months living in Sylhet, Bangladesh I thought it would be a good opportunity to refocus the blog on some bigger ideas of cookery and food. So each week I will explain a cookery mantra that will help you in the kitchen. I will relate this through a photographic item of note from my present time here in Bangladesh, which I hope helps to frame our cookery mantra towards some other larger food issues.


There is a battle waging in people’s kitchens. Day after day, year after year, people sweat and are stressed in front of the stove. WHY? To cook well one needs firstly to relax!!!

One attempts to cook a beautiful piece of sustainable fish in a pan and it never seems to brown no matter how much they move it around? All one needs is to have a hot pan, pour in a splash of oil, and then slide in the piece of seasoned fish over the oil. Next shake pan one to make sure the fish (if multiple pieces do not crowd the pan) is not sticking and then.... LET IT REST. Do not touch it, I repeat, do not touch it. Let it cook; and when browned, then and only then flip it. The same idea holds for roasting vegetables:spread out on a tray, let cook, then flip(see blog post 23 April 2009).

Ah, the BBQ ...Flipping every item on the BBQ as if you are gymnast doing your Olympic floor routine. NO. NO. NO...Let each side cook till nice marks appear before you turn them and not before. How do you think restaurants get the perfect grill marks on an grass fed steak that should be a "rare" treat? Easy, place seasoned steak on very hot grill and turn steak after 2-3 minutes to a 90 degrees angle, then after 2-3 more minutes flip/turn 90 degrees more, and then after 2-3 more minutes turn 90 degrees again and depending on temperature desired you should be complete (see blog posts on grilled pizza 10 July 2010 and grilled sardines 10 July 2010)

Lastly, lets remember what to do after cooking a wonderful piece of sustainable fish, grilled grass fed steak, or a nice free range carving bird.... LET IT REST. Before slicing the occasional steak or serving a piece of fish, let the hot item relax a few minutes (for a large item such as a turkey or large joint of meat one can let it relax for ½ hour covered in foil).

Resting a piece of meat allows its juices to evenly redistribute from the center across all the product and you end up with a more tender/flavourful food on your plate!!! Also, the residual heat in the product actually continues the cooking, so when you think a piece of meat is finished cooking, remember, it will continue cooking as long as it’s hot!!! This is the same for a nice casserole, lasagna, loaf of bread or cake...calm, relax, and let it rest (See blog post 29 July 2009))!!!!

In short, cooking should be relaxing, it should not be a stressful act that looks like karate or gymnastics...if you see yourself or your family member acting as such then you are working to hard and more importantly you are working your food to hard and it will let you know in drier, less tasty meals...

I know many of you may think these steps are nice, but you are also saying, I DON'T HAVE THE TIME!!!! I have to admit, cooking does take time. Fortunately, studies have show that the time we spend at restaurants, drive thru and take away shops is actually more then people previously spent actually cooking real food!!!! So don’t succumb to the billions of marketing dollars the food industry spends every year to convince you that good nutritional health and fiscal freedom comes out of a box. It does not!!!! It comes from you and you can help put it on your plate. Just cook, and remember ... LET IT REST

Friday, 21 January 2011

THE secret kitchen ingredient

Spending the next few months living in Sylhet, Bangladesh I thought it would be a good opportunity to refocus the blog this winter on some bigger ideas of cookery and food. So with each post I will explain a cookery mantra that will help you in the kitchen.

WATER, the one ingredient used in every meal!!!

How would we survive without the hydrating force of water? How do we wash our vegetables, let alone our hands and surfaces we cook on without a bit of soap, bleach, etc and a whole lotta water??? I must confess, that water is the real secret ingredient used in every restaurant kitchens across the planet, even if the most chefs don't know it!!!

How do we thin out an over reduced sauce?

How do we rinse off salt we have put on vegetables for pickling?

How do we wipe off our knives between uses?

What do we steam our vegetables over?

How should we refresh ourselves while we cook?

Often restaurants use stock to flavour soups, sauces or braises. A stock is basically cooking a flavourful ingredient such as veal or fish bones, with aromatic vegetables (usually onions, garlic, fennel, celery, carrots, etc) in a large quantity of, guessed it.... Water!!! Allowing the heating of water to pull out flavours from ingredients over a low and slow cooking process brings out flavour from often discarded ingredients such as bones, vegetable trimmings, and leftover carcasses. (See blog post from 29 july 2009)

When one wants to slow cook meats in the oven until they are mouth wateringly fork tender (braising); what is usually the liquid beyond stock (mostly water) used as the cooking medium? Its water! Allowing the meat to cook in its own juices, along with aromatics, and just enough water to cover the product a braise (see blog post 4 may 2009) is a cheap and tasty way to gain flavour.

Serving a gravy and you realize it’s a bit thick and you wonder, what did you do wrong? Unfortunately you have most likely reduced it too much and the water vapour escaped. This is no problem, just return the missing ingredient by splashing in a small amount of water.

Making flatbreads (10 july 2010 blog post) and the dough is a bit too tough and not very pliable then simply splash a bit of water on your hands or on the dough and get kneading!!!

And of course when you are sautéing some fresh, local, seasonal and healthy vegetables in a pan and you have only used minimal oil to cut down on the fat, there may often be a problem. The vegetables seem to be drying out and possibly burning???? Well besides turning down the heat and making sure you don’t have too many vegetables in the pan for a good sauté (Saute translates literally as, jump!!!), just add a splash of water to finish the cooking. This not only unsticks the product, releases the nice browned bits from the pan, helps to pull all the flavours together, but even makes clean up a bit easier.

Water is the secret ingredient for easy and healthy cooking. So important for the 6 billion people on the planet and yet we still waste it!!! Do you cook and brush your teeth with tap water? Then why not drink It.? Why use bottled water that has absolutely no extra nutritional value? Are you living in a place with no access to clean, reliable water? That is what I thought. Besides being a secret ingredient in your cooking, did you know it takes nine litres of water in the process of producing 1 litre of bottled water for you to purchase? That my friends is a waste of the secret key ingredient in your cooking, and more to the point a waste of a scarily not so secret scarce commodity for the majority of our planetary residents!!!!

Saturday, 15 January 2011


Spending the next few months living in Sylhet, Bangladesh I thought it would be a good opportunity to refocus the blog this winter on some bigger ideas of cookery and food. So with each post I will explain a cookery mantra that will help you in the kitchen.


It takes alot to balance your flavours in cookery. When you make a soup, stew, sauce, or gravy often it tastes a bit, shall we say... off, missing something, or in need of a certain je ne c’est quoi!!! So what to do?

Have you made a soup that tastes a bit sharp and acidic; then add a splash of olive oil. If you are feeling a bit naughty, a pat of butter swirled into the soup just before serving will give the roundness and mouth feel that makes a good soup taste great. Often the big change, the real help, is a lil' bit of acid. And what do we mean by acid: lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice or a flavoured vinegar to cut through the richness and fat of a dish.

For example, when making pan gravy to go with your Sunday roast it often is quite fatty, even after skimming the fat off the top, and it may be missing a bit of spark. One can simply squeeze a bit of lemon or lime into the final product to brighten the flavour before everyone starts dumping salt on his or her food.

A few other examples of how this can work:

  • If making a lentil soup use lime to brighten up final flavour before thinking of salt.
  • When making a marinara sauce a finishing splash of balsamic vinegar or olive oil may be necessary depending on the freshness of the tomatoes and the length of cooking.
  • A beef stew can go in so many directions: lemon juice or red wine vinegar can both help to balance the richness of the final product.
  • Here in Sylhet all of our curry meals have been served with wedges of lime, chili's and cucumber which all help to balance and give depth to the meal.
  • Often we here of “oddball” ingredients in recipes, secret tips, that in truth are just mechanisms of balance: bitter chocolate in regional Mexican dishes, coffee in chili con carne, preserved lemon in a tajine and chutneys with a cheese ploughman's are all methods to balance the fat and acid that make a boring meal into a masterpiece.

The key is in using only what is necessary and tasting as you make adjustments. These are simple ways to adjust, enhance, or change up any dish you make without adding the unhealthy and uninteresting option of salt. As well, use fresh/seasonal ingredients which have more natural flavour and sugars that don’t need much enhancement by extra salt, sugar, or fat.

It is simply a question of balance.

The purported balance of the new “natural” Frito’s, recently trialed vitamin fortified Pepsi, or fadtastic Omega-3 fatty acid pills are a cheap ploy to sell products to a population with an unbalanced diet, just as splashing salt on your food is simply masking a lack of balance in your cooking. Eating a couple pieces of fruit a day for a snack, a piece of omega rich fish once a week, or drinking some good old fashion water might help bring back some balance not only to the vitamins and minerals you want, but the sustenance and joy in eating that one needs.

In short, a bit o butter once in a while will not kill you, a bit of acid may help you cut back on salt, and a bit of thought about the food we cook and eat will go along way in creating a balance that is long overdue in how all of us enjoy sustainable and nutritious food with our co-workers, friends and family.