New Year, New Ideas!
By Linda Parker
Well… from the depths of a freezing spell, weather-wise, and the doldrums and post-Christmas self-loathing that come when you mentally add up how many mince-pies and turkey sandwiches have been scoffed, I am trying very hard to be enthusiastic and positive about a sprinkling of New Year resolutions. They are quite simple … cook healthily, don’t eat rubbish, and do lots more walking.
It has been all a bit too early in the year to take too much notice of many TV programmes, but one that caught my eye was the re-run of Channel 4’s The World’s Best Diet It makes perfect sense, and quite shocking viewing regarding our lazy-bones British diet. If you can watch it on catch-up, I can assure you that it will change many of your ideas on diet and food preparation, even if you’re not actively trying to lose weight, but perhaps just fine-tune some eating habits whilst re-evaluating your attitudes to food.
I’m expecting delivery of the much-hyped Nutribullet shortly, and although I’m not a big fan of smoothies and shakes – one every now and then is enough for me, the thought of chugging down one a day is slightly daunting – I am impressed by what I’ve heard so far. Stand by for more thoughts in a couple of months or so.
One of the things that did happen straight before and then straight after, the Christmas celebrations was a major clear-out of the freezer. I thought I was fairly organised, but after finding several unidentified plastic boxes (is it frozen goose fat or a small portion of mashed potato) I did go out and buy some sticky labels and permanent markers. We fine-tuned several chicken casserole recipes to use up several packs of chicken legs and thighs – basically, there is no casserole that cannot be improved by the addition of wine, garlic, several handfuls of chunky chestnut mushrooms and for a nice simple twist, some chunks of roasted butternut squash. Serve on a deep plate with a dollop of mashed potato, or a portion of rice.
I’ve been perking up plain rice with a few drops of Star Kay Essence essential oils (see the whole range here), available in Garlic, White Basil and Coriander varieties.
Of course those flavours are easily available, but for a speedy evening supper dish, a couple of drops into the steaming rice or cous-cous or even into the casserole pot itself does add a serious depth of flavour. I’ve been using an electric rice cooker for ages now, it is really the only way to prepare large quantities of rice without juggling large colanders and pans. But … I have also had the Sistema Microwave Rice Cooker to try … I had something similar years ago, but haven’t used one recently.
It’s another easy-peasy way of getting rice just right, especially if you don’t need massive quantities. It’s around £9.99, see it here. For more multi-functional cooking assistance, take a look at the Instant Pot, which has ten programmes, a timer delay and can also be used as a pressure-cooker as well.
At £109 it could be the answer to a multitude of cooking requirements and an impetus to cook slow, cook healthy.
Solving our endless family arguments regarding the ideal consistency of mashed potato has been made simpler by the use of the Masha, £34.99 from Lakeland. I’m firmly on the ‘it still needs some texture so you know its potato’ side of the wall, battling against rest of the family who prefer the smoothest mash ever. I’ve even tried quoting Jamie Oliver, who I clearly remember saying don’t over-blend, you don’t want wallpaper paste. Anyway, if that argument rumbles on and on in your household, I do recommend trying the Masha, it manages to produce beautifully smooth and consistent mash, without that glutinous over-processed consistency.
One of the nicest parts of going out for a curry is the plate of little bits and bobs that accompanies the poppadoms. I’ve been known to go over-board on these and have barely any room left for my starters and main course. In the interest of making healthy, low-fat suppers, we’ve been experimenting with various curry recipes, making good use of left-overs and cheaper cuts of lamb and beef that benefit from longer cooking times. As a result I feel I’ve been missing out on the onion salad and relishes, but the arrival of the Wurfelschneider Cubico Onion Slicer from Haus has cheered me up immensely.
It’s a hand-operated chopper, which simply takes seconds to whizz up a perfectly sliced and diced onion. With no tears. (It’s nothing to do with laziness or knife skills, but the eye-watering results of bending so close to an onion to chop it finely). I’ve been adding the odd left-over bit of pepper and carrot too, and serving with home-made cucumber and mint raita and mango chutney. Find it here, around £30. For more fabulous curry recipes, visit the website of one of my favourite food writers, Anjum Anand. And of course, it’s all the perfect antidote to all those roast dinners after Christmas …
The planned streamlining and re-organisation of the kitchen will be happening shortly … I’ve fallen in love with these accessories, which have a quirky 1960s vibe…. Find them here