I can see how my entire life would have been a lot jollier if I hadn’t had a total aversion to things which did not come easily to me. The feelings of shame, disappointment, frustration, self-hatred and defeat which crop up when I get things wrong have separated me from achievements within my grasp. In fact I have watched others with less skill walk past me just because they were prepared to learn. Here’s my new year’s quote which is going up on flashing lights on the kitchen wall :
‘Say to yourself : but what if I’m wrong about everything? It is from this place of suspension of belief that you may begin to listen to her.’
Now this excellent advice was from a dog trainer and the ‘her’ he was listening to was a Pug! But it came up in an article about psychotherapy because it’s a very good starting point for a therapist who is learning to listen to clients. In 2018 I have the idea of approaching myself like that, with my ears open. Let me rephrase slightly :
What if I’m wrong about everything? It is from this place of suspension of belief that I may begin to listen to myself.
So I shall start in the kitchen now that my food production is scaling down from the industrial (Christmas) proportions of feeding 12 people three time a day to the more normal one or two, there will be less firefighting and more space to make mistakes. I feel happy enough in the kitchen to experiment with assuming I am wrong about what I can do and what I can’t do and opening my heart to truly new experiences. One of the wonderful cookbooks I received for Christmas (yes, my family know me well) is Salt, Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat and this will be my workbook because this is not the kind of cookbook I would buy myself. It’s about technique and a rather scientific approach to cooking which is an area where I feel less able. Give me a book with lovely pictures and I will produce you my delicious versions of the food which I can rarely recreate exactly because I don’t measure or time things. Diagrams of salt absorption? Scientific explanation of how different fats affect pastry? That’s not me at all. Except, turns out, it can be. It is.
Because Samin has written the book so engagingly and encouragingly I am gripped by learning how to use salt properly, by different types of acid and what they are for. This book is for accomplished cooks and for beginners and it is a delightful read. I begin to hope that it will genuinely increase my skills without impinging on flair and imagination. First I have discovered that I can bear to become aware of the areas where I lack skill – and that is no small thing in itself – I generally cover them up with a passion for aesthetics. But the truth is I would dearly love to be able to the tricky, technical things that I see others do and it just may be that 2018 is the year when I can learn. Watch this space.
Now I’d like to share with you another recipe from Nadine Redzepi’s delicious book which I have to say I adapted to my time schedule and the ingredients I had to hand and you may want to do that too. (The ingredients in brackets are my substitutions or suggestions).
Or you may want to take the trouble to muster the right ingredients before you start and take the time to follow the recipe exactly. Steering a healthy, creative, pragmatic and kind line between these two approaches is experimental work in itself.
Beef-Glazed Celeriac with Buttermilk Sauce
Celeriac – this is the main ingredient so for 4 people you need about 2 and a half pounds or a kilo
Rapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
Beef or veal demi-glace 240 ml (and here is how to make a vegetable equivalent)
(beef demi-glace is a finishing jus sold in sachets in Waitrose and doubtless many other places. Or you could make one. The point is that it is full of umami flavour so if you’re vegetarian you will need to follow the steps on the link above to make a vegetable umami bomb. This time a few teaspoons of Marigold is not going to hack it. And if you can’t do that I would try some toasted sesame oil brushed on instead of a jus. It should produce something of the richness effect. Add a little liquid at the same time.)
pine nuts 3 tablespoons
salted butter 200g
curly kale, 2 large leaves (or any substantial green vegetable such as broccoli, chard or what you have in)
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 2 tablespoons freshly grated
Buttermilk 60 ml, preferably full fat
(I used kefir as I didn’t have buttermilk)
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Preheat the oven to 180 or 160 with a fan. Peel the celeriac and chop into 4 slabs each about 8mm/3/4 inch wide. (I made mine too thin the first time). Save the other parts of celeriac for soup or puree.
Grease a baking dish large enough to hold the pieces in a single layer.
Turn the slices to coat them in the oil and cook for 30 minutes before turning over and cooking for another 30 minutes.
Raise the oven temperature to 200 and pour over the demiglace. Continue cooking and basting for another 20-30 minutes. Add a drop of water if it gets too dry.
Meanwhile toast the pine-nuts dry in a small frying pan.
Melt the butter and whisk over the heat until it turns a lovely nutty brown. Keep warm.
Fry the kale in small pieces, discarding tough stems, in the pan used for the pine nuts and some of the oil. Drain on kitchen towel. (I added a few chilli flakes to the kale but probably better without.)
Sprinkle the parmesan over the celeriac for the last few moments in the oven.
Stir the buttermilk into the browned butter over a gentle heat and arrange on four plates. To which add slices of celeriac and a garnish of kale leaves and pine nuts.
This dish was totally unexpected and wonderful. If you are not vegetarian do make the effort to get the demi-glace or jus. The celeriac becomes a truly meaty and different vegetable under its influence.