Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Take Your Time


Good things come to those who wait. It's easy to forget this saying when we are used to the instant gratification of the internet, ready-made foods and fast-everything. The professional culinary world is no different: the mad rush of service, tempers flare up, egos boil over, but the adrenaline buzz is oh-so addictive that slowing down is rarely an option.


If there is one thing I've learned as a chef, it's that cooking at home should be enjoyable, that every instant should be savoured... Oh, I know that time is a luxury in today's mad race between work, school runs, and driving everyone to wherever they need to be, but it's a luxury we should all allow ourselves to indulge in. Just as Mother Nature is taking her sweet time to coax Spring out of hiding, so should we take our time to make the food that is to nourish us, body and soul.


Experienced gardeners, like good cooks, know that everything comes together in its own time, and there is no point in rushing things. Seeds sown too early will sprout, but will remain weak and scraggly, no matter how much care and heat we may shower upon them. April is just the right time to be sowing salads, radishes, turnips, and to push those potatoes into a deep pot for an early crop of new potatoes. The seeds seem to know when the days grow longer, and they will reward you with strong growth. Despite the snow outside your window.


Bread also likes to take its time. It can be made in under two hours, but the best flavour comes from a slow and cool rise, taking as much as two days from start to finish. Dough that proved overnight -even in the fridge- will develop flavour compounds that can never be obtained in a bread maker. And slow-risen breads keep better than rushed loaves, though they might not stick around long enough to get stale!


So slow down. Perhaps not every single day, but when the time permits. If you are lucky enough to be living in an area with clear grounds and sky, April is the perfect month to done your wellies, grab a bag, a pair of scissors, and spend the afternoon trampling in the woods: there are nettles to pick, wild garlic to forage, cherry blossoms and crab apple flowers for tea and desserts, and many other wild tidbits to hunt for. You can read or hear all about it in this edition of the Splendid Table.

However, if you are still shivering from the unseasonably cool weather, then take refuge in the kitchen, and make a stew, a curry, or some chili: your hearth and your heart will be warmed. Week-ends, days off and holidays may be more conducive to slow-cooked meals, but if you make a large batch, they can be enjoyed later in the week, or better yet, pack them up and freeze some to eat when your day just doesn't have enough hours.


For every other day of the week, just do as my friend K does: she makes large batches of crushed garlic and minced ginger when they're in season or on sale, keeps what can be used withing a few weeks in the fridge, and freezes the rest. K is a busy mother of two young children, yet she manages to make lovely curries and other complex Indian fares from scratch every day. It might seem trivial, but having jars of homemade condiments to hand easily shaves 5 to 10 minutes off of daily preps. While you can buy minced garlic, ginger and chillies, store-bought products often contain preservatives such as citric acid that can unpleasantly alter flavours. Processed in a blender simply with vegetable oil, homemade purées have clean flavours, and most will keep for two weeks, and up to a month in the case of garlic and chilli. So all you need to do after an intense day of foraging is turn on the stove, heat some oil, sauté some garlic and ginger and throw in all your pickings! 



Enjoy the time it takes for the ingredients to come together, and bon app'!




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