WARNING! This Book May Change Your Life aka 'Flash Cooking, Fit Fast Flavours for Busy People' by Laura Santtini
To be honest, I didn't think this would be my kind of book. We always ate healthily (and frugally) when I was growing up, I was a vegetarian for 15 years, and deep fried food, creamy sauces, cheeses and fatty cuts of meat just wasn't how I ate. I wasn't any kind of health obsessive, but I just wasn't interested in eating those kinds of foods.
Until I became obsessed with food, and cooking. Perhaps post-recession there's been a resurgence of interest in traditional, hearty, seasonal and fresh British cooking, championed by my favourite cookery writers Hugh, Nigel et al. Maybe it was due to being in a new relationship and that old adage 'The way to a man's heart...' Whatever. Slowly, double cream crept onto my shopping list as I experimented with Pommes Dauphinoise and beetroot gratins. We gorged on raclette, reblochon and roquefort. I made cakes! And slow roasted belly pork with crackling! And it was all delicious, but in addition to that sluggish feeling that comes with eating and drinking too well, two of my very favourite people have recently been battling with heart issues. When eating rich and calorie-laden/artery-clogging foods had started to become the norm, this book could not have arrived at a better time. I'm not saying that succelent, fatty cuts of meat, real butter and artisan cheeses will not have a place in our house, but I hope that now they will be an occasional treat, to be savoured.
You may be familiar with Laura Santtini - I remember her Taste No. 5 Umami paste being released to great acclaim in Selfridges a year or two ago. This book works on a similar principle, with salts, pastes, 'rubinades', seasonings, finishing yoghurts, dressings and 'props' that add a bit hit of flavour to quick-cooking meat and vegetables. These flash flavours are variously described as Western (think Vanilla and Black Pepper Salt), Middle Eastern (as in the Mint, Lemon and Harissa Rubinade), Indian (see the Tomato and Tamarind Paste) Far Eastern (Matcha and Lime Yoghurt) and Umami (Taste #5 Umamui Paste Glaze). It is a brilliant idea; marinade a piece of fish or meat in a 'rubinade' from one part of the world, finish it with it's corresponding salt, plus the prop or dressing, and you can't really go too far wrong.
'Flash Cooking' also has a more comprehensive collection of recipes, covering fish, flesh, eggs, cheese and tofu, 'comfort' (such as Hummus with Crumbled Feta and Pomegranate), vegetables and salads, soups, and ideas for starters and desserts. Phew!
I picked up 'Flash Cooking' from the Post Office on Tuesday, and have since used it to make eight different dishes. In less than a week its pages are spattered and stained. It becomes really intuitive too; I tried the Far Eastern Ginger & Chilli Rubinade on a whole roast chicken yesterday for a Sunday Roast with a twist, and it made perfect sense to add a five spice seasoning to the swede chips that accompanied it.
Another huge bonus for me is that a lot of the spices and condiments needed are either something I have in my storecupboard but may not use regularly (sumac is a case in point), or are ingredients (such as chilli and ginger) that I buy fresh regularly. I realised earlier I have all the spices needed to make the Middle Eastern seasoning Baharat (black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, smoked paprika, nutmeg, in case you were wondering). And the leftovers are great; the preserved lemon, pistachios, feta, mint and sumac from Saturday's meal were stirred through cous cous for today's lunch, served alongside raw cauliflower florets mixed with leftover Harissa Finishing Yoghurt - bingo!
Not all the recipes worked first time; the marinade for the maple-glazed salmon was much more than I needed to marinate two salmon fillets, and it was quite thin so didn't really coat or glaze the salmon (although it still tasted lovely), and next time I will wipe the rubinade off a whole chicken as the long cooking time meant the rubinade burned slightly (despite regular basting) whilst the chicken was in the oven. However, the purple sprouting broccoli with Pink Peppercorn and Sumac Salt, Harissa Finishing Yoghurt and chopped pistachios was heavenly, the Flash Glazed Cauliflower Cheese Steaks were a healthier and more flavourful version of the old classic, and the Preserved Lemon and Cumin Chicken Cakes wrapped in little gem leaves with more harissa yoghurt were absolutely spot on. We also used the Ginger Vinaigrette to dress some lightly steamed savoy cabbage, and tried the Grilled Pineapple with Vodka, Pink Peppercorns and Chilli.