Letters to my Food Heroes #2: Nigel Slater

Dear Nigel,

I hope this letter finds you well.  And I hope you don’t mind me writing but I do have a great deal to thank you for.  My name is Andrea and I write a food/cooking blog called Cooking Calamity Free (shameless plug, I know).  I’ve only been going a few months but I’m really enjoying writing about my creativity in the kitchen.  The blogging (and the digital presence that goes with it) has not been without its challenges (and neither has the cooking for that matter) but I’m learning all the time.  Anyway, I write this Food Heroes series on the blog focussing on people who have influenced me most on my culinary adventure.  You’re my No. 2 Food Hero so you can see I’ve not been going very long!  I’m afraid you were just pipped at the post to the number one spot by my mum.  She’s my ultimate Food Hero.  She’s where it all began but I learned to cook with you.

I got Christmas Chronicles as a gift last year.  I already have a few of your books (not all of them).  I’ve got all three of the Kitchen Diaries, both Tender volumes, Real Fast Food and The 30-Minute Cook.  I’d seen Christmas Chronicles but thought I wouldn’t get this one.  I thought it would be full of alcohol soaked dried fruit recipes, of which I am not all that keen, and Christmas’ are usually a quiet affair so I wouldn’t have the opportunity to make most of the recipes in there.  At least not at Christmas time anyway.  But I’m so glad I got it!  I love the nostalgia your stories evoke.  Your notes on winter prompted me to reflect on winter.  I live in Orkney and often feel a mixture of dread and fear as the days get shorter and the temperature drops.  Winters in Orkney can be hard and I do struggle sometimes.  It’s the very short days (and the accompanying darkness), frequent gale force winds and horizontal driving rain that are the challenge.  One year we had two weeks of almost gale force winds and it was exhausting.  I think the wind is the hardest thing for me.  Dealing with the constant howling and the buffeting that went with venturing outside.  One November it rained solid for the whole month.

I read ‘The Outrun’ by Amy Liptrot one winter, which helped me incredibly.  It was February so we were preparing to see the spring and the bulbs were starting to show themselves.  Have you read ‘The Outrun’?  I highly recommend it.  It reminded me of all the things I love about Orkney.  I started reading it as soon as I got it, which is unusual for me.  Usually I buy a book and then it sits on the shelf for ages before I read it.  The only other book I’ve done that with is your book ‘Toast’.  I couldn’t put it down.  I loved reading your food anecdotes.  Within the same sentence one moment I could be laughing out loud and then crying the next.  It was a very touching read.  I’m reading ‘The Summer Book’ by Tove Jansson at the moment to try to inject a little sunshine into the grey, cold days of winter.  I highly recommend that too.

I was introduced to your recipes and writing through ‘Real Fast Food’ which was given free with a magazine over ten years ago. Honestly, I thought I’d won the lottery.  I liked the way you put seemingly simple and innocuous ingredients together to create not just something delicious but also something that would satisfy.  The methods you used were uncomplicated which appealed very much to me, a beginner cook.  Even now I keep coming back to your cookbooks again and again because they’re dependable.  And I enjoy your writing.  I know it will be unfussy, delicious and not too complicated.  I’ve seen you on TV a few times.  When you did Simple Cooking and the Christmas Specials.  I like your cooking style.  It seems a little bit slapdash at times, meant in the nicest possible way of course, if you don’t mind me saying.  ‘I found this, this and this in the fridge and I created this delicious meal tah dah!’  I try to emulate this approach but don’t have the same successes as you.  I’m much better with recipes to follow.

There are a number of your recipes, from my early days, which have made it on to my regular menu, but it’s difficult to know where to start.  A look through my notebook of all the meals I’ve ever cooked shows me I’ve made upwards of 100 of your recipes.  One of the first was Fried Mackerel with Mustard and Coriander Seed Sauce.  It’s so tasty especially when teamed with one of the salad combos you suggest.  I actually think this was the first time I’d cooked with whole coriander seeds.  The citrussy burst was unexpected but very welcomed!  I regularly make Red and Yellow Pepper Pilaf, Flash Fried Moroccan Chicken (although I sometimes tend to add too much chilli to this which makes it a bit too hot for me but The Husband prefers it that way).  Likewise Mixed Veg Tempura and Stir Fried Chicken.  The simple ones are often the best.  I absolutely love Bulgar and Almonds from Real Fast Food.  It’s so very simple yet so comforting.  Chakchouka and Piperade were a revelation.  Eggs became a more interesting and fulfilling meal.  I made Pasta with Garlic, Goats cheese and Thyme once and only once I’m afraid.  I ate it while watching a French cookery programme about cooking with offal and the like, brains I think, and I just can’t get that association out of my head.

I’ve lost track of how many things I’ve cooked from the Kitchen Diaries and the Tender books.  I like my cookbooks to be encyclopaedic so Tender volumes I and II appeal very much.  Time and time again I can find a solution to a glut of something from the garden or even if I just have some bits and bobs of veg in the fridge I don’t know what to do with.  I made Blackcurrant Crumble but I ended up having to eat it most of it on my own because it was too tart for The Husband.  It was almost too tart for me but I slathered it in the best crème fraiche I could find which dampened the tartness somewhat.  Tomato Curry is delicious as is Squash, Chickpea and Lemongrass curry.  An absolute favourite of mine is Courgette and Lancashire Cheese Crumble.  I’m originally from Lancashire so I eat it proudly.  I’ve made countless of your beef stews but I’ve recently been using Orkney buffalo instead of beef.  I had quince for the first time in the lamb and quince recipe from Tender vol. II which was exciting!  Baked marrow with minced pork, pasta with dill and bacon, chicken patties with rosemary and pancetta, oh! The list goes on!

I’m going to try and embrace winter this year with all the gale force winds and horizontal rain it can throw at me and I’m doing it in part by embarking on a new cooking adventure with The Christmas Chronicles.  This will take me through the winter until I can pick up the early chapters of the Kitchen Diaries to see where I can go from there.

So, thank you for the inspiration to get me started in my early days as a beginner and for the inspiration you will no doubt continue to provide me in the years to come.  I’m off now to get started on banana and cardamom cake.  I do love cardamom.

Yours most gratefully and with warmest wishes

Andrea Taylor

P.S. if you make it up to Orkney please do let me know.  I love nothing more than acting as tour guide and showing people what makes Orkney so special.

 

 

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