Sunday, 27 February 2011


Spending these winter months living in Sylhet, Bangladesh is turning out to be an ideal time to focus slowfoodfastcookin on some bigger ideas of cookery and food. Each week I have been exploring a cookery mantra that will help you in the kitchen. With a photograph and a bit of global perspective, I trust you will find each entry helpful and thought provoking.

I love to cook. I hate waste. Whether it is rotting vegetables in the refrigerator or time cooking too small a batch of food. I truly detest wasting good food or precious time.

Many people complain that cooking is too difficult to do every night. Its too hard to plan so many meals for a week, with kids lunches to make, community events to attend, cookery shows to watch(hmmm?), cleaning to finish, not to mention simply relaxing with friends and family...

Don’t cook food every night. Yes, I said it. You do not need to cook a masterpiece of variety, flavour, and artistry every night of the week. What you simply need to do is understand how the size and timing of your cooking can make life easier

  • Think about more than one meal when you cook. Maybe steam the entire kilo of broccoli, knowing you will want to bring some for lunch during the week. Why not chop onions for tonights stir fry with rice and the mid week fried rice (hmm...same rice two ways as well)
  • Cut your products the same size for even cookery. The point of cooking is not to cook everything to death so that you know its DONE.... trust me it was five minutes ago!!!
  • Use the correct size pan for the job...why break out the giant stock pot and waste gas boiling five gallons of water to simply cook one pound of pasta...what else can you cook with same water...and what are you doing while its boiling???
  • Double and triple the recipe size. This will save you time when you simply have to reheat or defrost that wonderful soup, sauce or casserole you made previously.
  • Buy real whole food and buy in bulk. Simply put... shop less, save more, and know what is actually in your food besides the salts, sugars, fillers, and preservatives!!!!
  • If you make a big batch and it does not taste perfect...fix it and forget about it!!!! This is dinner, not the end of the world, we all have bigger issues to worry about then if the onions are slightly over caramelized or the paneer is a bit too cooked!!!!

Remember that there are about seven billion people on this here billion are undernourished, one billion overweight or obese and most of us are just trying to stay “safely” somewhere in the middle.

Am I recommending you buy a giant chest freezer and attempt to cook a months worth of meals on a 24 hour cooking bender, as my friend’s mother did when I was a child. Hardly. I simply want you to make the right choices. Our present belief in the necessity of unlimited choice is an unnecessary and unsustainable luxury. Making meals at home should not be.

Size does matter, and so does our time, our health and our food.

Saturday, 19 February 2011


More and more we are observing a call to cut back on salt, fat and processed sugars. Many try and often find the end result of their “healthy” cooking to be both bland and less than inspiring. Some would say, SO WHAT, its for your health, learn to live with it. I say, no £$£@%? way!!!

Tasty food is about quality cooking and seasonal and fresh ingredients, period. It’s not about excess and the heavy hand of fats, salt, and sugary products. As we have spoke of in recent blog posts, one needs to use a variety of techniques to flavour your food. Many people ask me how they can, “...spice up their food?” The answer is in the question!!!

The liberal use of spices, is not merely a substitute for fats and salts, but actually can increase the taste of your dishes. I am not talking about the season salt, supermarket blends of spices; I mean individual spices used with what is almost, just almost, reckless abandon...

  • Toast whole spices such as cumin or coriander seeds to bring out deeper flavours before you toss with roast
  • Crust a piece of fish, beef, or tofu with crushed fennel or smoked paprika before searing in a pan
  • Braise vegetable or meats with a small handful of whole spices such as peppercorns, dried chilli’s, or cinnamon sticks thrown in ( blog post 4 May 2009).
  • Toss a handful of black onion or mustard seeds in the pickling liquid when using up leftover seasonal vegetables (blog post 17 June 2009).
  • Use a mortar and pestle or a clean coffee grinder to grind your own spices, as you need them, for max flavour.
  • Buy spices in bulk, keep them sealed and out of the light, and use them with a heavy hand.
  • Taste what you are cooking !!!!!!!

FINALLY.... Don’t add one grain of salt to your food till the end of cooking process... then and only then add and taste again.

And this is how you will end up with tasty food flavoured by your cookery and a whole lotta spices!!!

Thursday, 10 February 2011


That sounds like a mouthful, and it is. A real mouthful of flavour. Any chef, cook, parent, friend, who tells you a list of twenty ingredients for their special sauce or recipe better go back to the stove and try again. I am not saying don’t flavour your food but that folks should put a lil thought into what to actually add to the food that you purchased with hard earned money from the hard working farmers who keep us fed.

When it’s the time of year for a specific seasonal product, then I say use it. Again and again. I ate mangos all day long during the hot season when I lived In Mali. Raw, juiced, dried, mixed with greens, cooked with peanut sauce, stewed, and chomped on like an apple!!! And they were dreamlike. Eating a wonderful piece of local Pabda fish here in Sylhet I find the slow cooked pile of sweet onions that have just come to market are amazing!!!! In Sylhet the winter crop of onions are worth savouring as the price has almost doubled in the last year for consumers along with rice, oil, and wheat, and at the same time the farmers are making half the amount of money...that is food for thought my well fed friends!!!!

Want to add cumin into a nice meal of roasted vegetables, with salmon and a sauce? Why not roast the vegetables with cumin seeds, crust the salmon with cumin and then make a puree like sauce of some of the roasted cumin flavoured beets. Now we have added flavour, doubled texture and simplified the number of ingredients.

Think carefully of what type of fat you may be cooking with: a strong olive oil, a dollop of butter, a bit of bacon...all can go along way if used correctly.

What are the one or two spices/herbs you want to flavour your dish? Got ‘em? Now don’t be afraid to use them in a few differently ways (roasted, toasted, powdered, fresh, etc)

Is the cooking technique you are using the best for the job? Maybe its worth firing up the grill even in winter, to get a great flavour on those root veggies or a steak as opposed to putting the magic combination of every spice in the cabinet on them!!!

What are the complimentary dishes? Can the tomatoes in the tomato sauce also have some roasted tomatoes as a garnish? Maybe the fennel puree can be served with pickled fennel and crushed fennel seeds on your roasted tofu?

Can you change your main dish with a new twist? How about a puree of your favourite black beans under your standard white rice and served with a center of plate attraction of grilled or roasted seasonal vegetables...

This is not rocket science...this is having fun in the kitchen and not burying flavours in the bottom of a shopping list of random acts of seasoning unkindness....

We all want to eat well. We all want to have fun. We should be able to achieve both in the kitchen each and every day.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


Two nights ago I passed a fever filled night of chills and shakes. Last night I started writing this blog entry only to be jolted by the shaking of our building during an earthquake. Two nights ago was man made and last night was nature. Both were real. The reality of life should be awakening...

The food we eat needs a wakeup call. I was told by a man on the street, as we all fled out of doors during the shaking of buildings, ”Life is but an instant, Life is nothing...” And it made me think of what most of us humans actually eat. We eat as if nothing matters; like a prisoner on death row awaiting their last meal. Globally, with an obesity rate of 10%, UK/US rate of overweight at about 40% and increase heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers we are not far off!

In truth what we want in those moments, whether after an earthquake, on death row, or just returning home are memories through flavours, a last taste of a reality we may never know again. Some ask how to get to that place???

  • When I want to eat something fruity, I want the juice of the mango on my lips, not that of corn syrup sweetened candy.
  • When I desire the flavour of tomatoes bursting in my tomato sauce, I want them from real farm fresh seasonal tomatoes not from powdered pulp mixed with thickeners, sugars and fillers
  • When i want to eat a roast chicken, I want to taste the crispy skin and the juicy meat. I want to savour the flavours of the fields the chicken found food in, not the extrement of the pen it was stuffed in with thousands of others as they wait to become proccessed fried chicken products.
  • When I have a cup of tea each morning, I want reality as well. The real price paid for the real labour of all the south Asian migrant labourers up here in Sylhet, slaving away in the hot sun, the stifling humidity, and often the torrential flooding all to pick the worlds tea leaves.

We in the U.S. and U.K. currently pay less for food than at any other time in our collective histories, and the ones paying the price are the billions of poor producers, labourers, and the environmentally deteriorating planet!!!

I will keep writing blog posts with cooking ideas, but we all need to remember to eat real food. Don’t eat marketing. Don’t eat labels, They just don’t taste good. Simply eat real food. It does not matter if you are a manager of a school food division or managing your kid’s lunch, take a second to think of the big picture and what real food really means to you and the people you serve. Buy if you can from a real grocer, butcher, fishmonger, fisherman, and farmer. Find out where your food really comes from and then try to pay a real price. And most important, have some real enjoyment with friends and family.