After we came home there were the holiday baking and good chocolates, accompanied by uplifitng socializing, but the sweets turned out to be easier to get off after the holidays; what's been harder have been crackers, (to go with cheeses and lovely bottled chutneys and relishes,) and seasonal fruits, (first stone fruits, my favorite, and then berries, something of Nelson's speciality.) I've kept up with sauerkraut and pickles, both making and eating, but it's been hard getting back on the "cheat occasionally" schedule. Or, the more we sin, the harder to feel guilty. My weight has fluctuated. Ben's old shoulder injury has worsened and he's had weekly dates with a lovely physio, making it hard for me to nag about getting on the machine.
Although we love cookbooks, (I read some cover to cover - they are the best winter bedtime reading,) neither of us follow recipes; mostly we learn about ingredients and flavour combinations from books and TV shows. Though we, I, have too many of them, last year we bought two which discuss more how to live/eat rather than list recipes.
Nicola Galloway's "Homegrown Kitchen" came out at long last around my birthday last year. Nicola is a Nelson chef/author; I first met her in 2007 when she ran supermarket tours for gym members to teach us how to read labels and what to pay attention to. I was flabbergasted by this young woman's scientific knowledge of nutrition and started to take her workshops in 2012, primarily for sourdough then, but I became fascinated by her wholistic approach to eating. Every few years I go back because she is constantly studying and experimenting, and her recipes are updated and often simplified.
I enjoyed my sourdough period, but I am now into simple preserving, (no sugar jam, for e.g.) and lacto-fermentation. In class, she drops gems of knowledge as easily as she breathes, and this beautiful book summarizes her approach, which is a joy to emulate even only in parts. Some of her recipes are so simple and yet astonishingly delicious; some take a long time, (sauerkraut, e.g.) and may appear labour-intensive, in that you can't get home from work and whip it up in 15 minutes, but you can make enough to last several weeks/months, and the effort is worth it. It's that kind of a cookbook. She does food photos herself, and it's from a Nelson publisher, which is important in a small town.
Try her blog here.
I saw "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" by Samin Nosrat at Volume just before Christmas, in the short time it took Ben to park the car, and we agreed it was just our kind of cookbook. Samin is a young American chef of Persian extraction. I've only got started, as a) you must put the book down and try as instructed, but also, because b) there is an exhausting amount of name-dropping, and c) so far precious little, (i.e. none,) of her wonderful food heritage. (We know a tiny bit about Persian cooking as one of the first people we met in Nelson is a mind-blowing Persian cook.) But the science sounds sound (!) and the illustration lovely, and it's improved the flavours of our meals exponentially.
Japanese diet is loaded with salt, (soy sauce, miso, pickles, and the list goes on,) so we are taught early on to watch our intake. I even went through a couple of decades of not cooking with any salt/soy sauce, opting to use them only at the table, but this started to change after coming to New Zealand and our meat intake increased. I read the salt part a couple of times and over Ben's holiday we had a protein blast, me salting meats/fish 15 minutes - 2 days ahead and Ben cooking/roasting in the barbie in the mornings, (as the afternoons/evenings were too hot to cook,) followed by three or four days of not having to cook and still eating well. And now we know how this works; well, Ben knows, and I know what to do, which is how nutrition works at chez B&M. I am repeatedly surprised how little salt is needed, and how it enhances not only the protein's flavour but also that of other seasoning, of which we also need less.
Although I got started on the second, fat, section, I might move onto the acids; it sounds less dangerous after salt. Mom loves vinegars and in Japan we use them a lot, (as part of the umami, if you've heard of that late 20th Century buzzword;) and Ben and I put it in, (while cooking,) or splash it on, (afterwards,) practically everything. The book has recipes at the back, and we might skim through it, but again, this is a leaning-how-to-do-our-own-thing book. And did I mention the illustration is lovely? The edition I got at Volume has all temperatures/measurements in metric, except what is described in the illustrations.
And now to our little gems, hardly "recipes" but things quick and delicious: first is Ben's Asian dressing/marinade/seasoning. Mix equal parts:
- sesame seed oil, (the fragrant kind, which is most products, but we once had a non-Asian organic product with only a faint scent;)
- Japanese soy sauce, (the country of origin doesn't matter, but we have come across other Asian products which were thicker;)
- vinegar with weak/no scent, (we use rice vinegar);
Ben says when marinating chicken, adding maple syrup is good, too.
Here's mine: umeboshi seasoning. Umeboshi is salted sour plums, which come in different sizes and colors, (red, brown, yellow,) and different softness and sourness. For straight eating, the small, hard-fleshed ones are not as salty but fruity IMHO, but the softest, mushiest flesh is what I like for seasoning. Remove the pit/stone and chop or pound the flesh to make a rough paste. This need not be smooth or even. (I found some at a Nelson organic store labeled "Umeboshi paste", but haven't tried yet; you may be able to buy them already in paste state.)
The paste has a salty, sour flavour and you could season soups; I like to season chicken or pork. If you want to make rice balls, mix a small amount with rice while still steaming hot until the rice is pinkish; taste. Prepare a large bowl with slightly salted water; dip your hands into the bowl, take a small amount of seasoned rice and make tight, small balls. Dip your hands again in salt water and repeat. Serve rice balls warm or cold.
Here's my favorite, seasoned sweet mashed potatoes: I cut up sweet potatoes, (orange kumura is best, regular potatoes are OK, too,) into small chunks and either steam or nuke with a small amount of water; (if nuking, I error on the side of a bit too much water; cook at half power for 2-3 minutes; turn the pieces; repeat until the chunks are cooked evenly; discard some of the water if there's too much.) Start mashing, but about halfway, mix the paste so it mixes with the potatoes evenly. When nuked, kumura hardens a little as it cools, so I make it mushier if I have more than enough for one meal. A big kumura makes two or three meals' worth. How much paste depends on your umeboshi, your potato, and your preference, so taste while you mash/mix, but the flavour becomes a little less intense as it cools.