We are almost into week three of the first month of the New Year and boy, how time flies! It seems like only yesterday that we were in the midst of the hustle and bustle associated with the Christmas season. As I reflect on Christmas and even though it remains one of my absolute favourite times of the year, it is quite sobering to acknowledge that this “hustle and bustle” is not related only to a specific time of year or event, but rather, it has invaded and has become the accepted norm in every aspect of our lives. Even our cuisine has not been spared, as fast food is readily available and their establishments plentiful. Apart from the well stocked aisles in supermarkets filled with frozen entrees, desserts and snacks, you can drive up to a speaker, place your order and within a mere few minutes, collect your meal at a window on the opposite side of the building; this is also evidence of how cold and impersonal dining has become, as this was an event that was once used to bring and hold families and friends together.
As someone interested in all things related to food, I understand the popularity of fast food which in turn has led to the phenomenal growth of this multi-million dollar industry not only in Barbados, but in many other parts of the world as well. Unfortunately, though, the growth of the fast food industry has almost obliterated slow cooking.
“Slow food” may appear to be new terminology and a new way of preparing food, as it is being referred to bit more every day. Ironically, there is nothing really new about “slow food”, as this is where our beloved profession started and this is long before the hormone-treated animals or genetically-modified vegetables, which seem to be all that is thrown at us these days. This of course was not only to satisfy a growing population, but also to speed up the time in which the produce could be delivered to the customer – all part of the changing, fast-paced world.
I, though, have decided that from this year, and if you like you can even consider it a New Year’s resolution, to pump the brakes and come right back to slow food; I guess it is now important to me as I grow older and understand more so the importance of the value of the things we eat and especially how they are prepared.
So, cooking for long, slow periods or, as they put it, low and slow and the use of juices, stocks and water will replace the faster methods of cooking which generally utilize high heat and much larger quantities of fats and oils. The blending of herbs and spices to enhance flavour will replace caramelization, again the result of fat and heat. Yes, it will be a different flavour, but one to which we will rekindle the relationship as these will take us right back to Grandma’s cooking and you can spend some time inhaling and savouring the aromas of the blends of herbs, vegetables and protein as we did in bygone days. This I intend to do at every opportunity I get this year and going forward.
This of course means the changing of some of the cooking methods frequently used in our kitchen, as boiling, braising and simmering will now replace deep and shallow frying, pan frying and even pan searing, so now, you will have to get familiar with a different style of cooking. This will be my focus, at least in the first part of the year, as I take you through the beauty of slow food and its benefits, so I hope that you will take the time to make this journey with me over the next few weeks.
This may even be the time to invest in and get to understand a new piece of equipment, that being the slow cooker, which will make your life easier as we go on. However, remember, all of these recipes can still be done in the traditional way, either in the oven or on an open flame, while paying close attention to our cooking temperature, which is the most important thing in slow cooking.
Here are some recipes for you to try as we begin exploring slow cooking:
HOT BROCCOLI CHEESE DIP
4 ozs butter
8 ozs celery, sliced
4 ozs onion, chopped
8 ozs mushrooms
4 ozs flour
1 1lb can cream of chicken soup
8 ozs water
1 pod garlic, crushed
8 ozs cheddar cheese, cut into dices
1 lb broccoli, cut into florets
1. Melt butter in a large skillet; add flour, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes; adjust heat to make sure it does not burn.
2. Add water, chicken soup and allow to cook slow, stirring occasionally until flour is completely cooked; season with salt and pepper.
3. Stir in cheese, broccoli, celery mushrooms, garlic and onions; cook for another 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.
4. Turn heat to low and cook for another hour; hold for service.
BEEF AND SWEET POTATO STEW
3 lbs boneless beef
2 lbs sweet potatoes
8 ozs carrot, diced
3 christophenes, cored and sliced
3 onions, diced
1 pod garlic, finely diced
4 tsps fresh herbs, chopped
½ oz cornstarch
6 -8 whole cloves
20 ozs beef stock or water
1. Cut beef into 2 inch dices; place in saucepan with all vegetables, herbs and liquid; season with salt and pepper and cook on a low heat for four to six hours.
2. After cooking, strain off cooking liquid into another saucepan and add cornstarch which should have been moistened with two tbsps of water, cook at medium heat for approximately 8 minutes, adjusting the consistency with water if it becomes too thick. It should be a smooth, flowing consistency, which easily coats the back of a spoon; re-adjust the seasoning and return to pot with beef, mixing well.
3. Simmer for another ten to 15 minutes and serve.