Not long ago, I used to watch a programme called Market Kitchen that showcased recipes using seasonal, well sourced ingredients. Every now and again, short clips of famous chefs and food writers would be shown in which they were asked to tell viewers what their guilty (food) pleasure was. Since the show championed home cooked meals and fresh ingredients, it was a nice little reminder that even the most dedicated of chefs enjoy the odd bit of commercial rubbish. Answers ranged from kebabs to fish finger butties with ketchup to shop bought coleslaw.
For the average viewer, there might be a few raised eyebrows. “What’s wrong with shop bought coleslaw?” Chefs and food writers obviously want their eating habits and their opinions on food to be respected. I love fish finger sandwiches with ketchup, but I don’t run a restaurant in London and people won’t question my palate if I admit to it. It was nice to hear that French trained, fussy chefs were humans with childhood memories and the odd craving for something they ate in their days as students.
Food snobbery is definitely rife on television and perhaps in our kitchens. I’m definitely guilty of it. In one instance, I can look down my nose at someone stocking up on boxes of frozen meals, and in the next, shove a frozen pizza in the oven after work. That kind of hypocrisy is easy to spot and rather dumb. Convenience has come to define late twentieth Century food, and this, combined with the global impact of growing, farming, processing, packaging and transporting food on a massive scale, has led to a growing interest in the origins and quality of food. It also means that foodies like me have become very judgemental about food that might be processed, artificially flavoured, microwavable or worryingly cheap to buy.
I’m making an effort to be less snobby and more realistic about what is possible in the kitchen when working full-time and trying to have a life. Does one really have to make stock from scratch? Am I a barbarian for using Oxo cubes? Should I be shot at dawn because I sometimes use a jar of Thai curry sauce instead of blending my own paste? There has to be a balance. I’d like to say that the food I make on a daily basis combines lots of fresh ingredients with a few of the conveniences we’ve come to rely on in modern times. I don’t have the equipment to make my own sausages and I’m happy to get mine from the butcher. I will, however, make my own bread when the mood takes me. I love throwing in a frozen pizza when time is against me, but there’s nothing like making your own dough and the satisfaction that you get from pulling out a bubbling home-made pizza from the oven. Essentially, it comes down to being able to control what is on your plate. How much salt, fat or sugar do you want? How big do you want your portions to be? How does your family like a dish to be served? What is the best way to cook it? How can you use what’s in the fridge so that nothing goes to waste? Do your meals give you what you need each day to lead a healthy life? Does what you eat taste exactly the way you want it to? If the answers to these questions aren’t important to you, then shopping for and cooking food is going to remain very straight forward. For me, it’s a daily consideration. Trying to balance my best intentions with a realistic and manageable approach to cooking is challenging at times, but it is extremely enjoyable. In writing this blog, I’m keeping a record of the recipes which I feel achieve that balance.
Feeling naughty? I am. Especially after making this little pudding using a few bits that I had in the kitchen. There was zero effort and so much guilty fun in eating it. I was almost too embarrassed to write about it, but it was so good that I have to.
Toffee crumble sundae
3 scoops vanilla ice-cream
2 all butter shortbread fingers
handful of pecans
toffee fudge sauce
I poured some toffee sauce into the bottom of a dessert cup and then crumbled shortbread on top. Then I pushed a scoop of ice-cream in and repeated these layers until I got to the top. I toasted the pecans for a couple of minutes in a dry pan, threw them on top and poured lots more toffee sauce on. I know what you’re thinking, “Gosh! What a skillful cook!”