Sunday 25 September 2011

Sunday Salon: Eating Fresh Food

This Sunday Salon is almost completely unrelated to books, being all about eating fresh food.  I'm not ashamed to admit that when I left home for good (university doesn't count), at the age of 23, I was a fussy eater and unable to cook anything from scratch.  The husband (then boyfriend) and I subsided on pasta sauces out of jars, pre-made chilli sauces and a lot of toast, not having the money to eat out.  We didn't eat ready meals, but nothing was freshly cooked from scratch and eating wasn't a great pleasure.

Then my friend Emma lent me her copy of Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food cookbook, written for complete beginners.  I started with the basics: spicy tomato sauce, spaghetti bolognese, chicken fajitas, hearty soups and beef pie.  I soon found that not only could I cook if I had a decent recipe, but that my food tasted good, so much better than the processed junk I had been eating before.  I learned how satisfying it is when you cook something and someone else visibly enjoys it.

And after that, nothing could stop me really.  I moved on to other cook books and different cuisines and was soon eating far more than I had before.  I discovered that I really do like fish, as long as it's not of the oily variety.  I learned the power of a good salad dressing to transform boring old veg.  I started making curries from scratch and experimenting with different cuts of meat - lamb shoulder, pork belly.  Thomasina Mier's Mexican Food Made Simple inspired in me a love of proper Mexican food, not just chillies and fajitas.  I bought a blender and started replacing my fizzy drinks with fresh smoothies.

The latest step in my fresh food journey has been signing up for an Abel and Cole fruit and veg box. I now get fresh, organic, seasonal fruit and vegetables delivered to me every Wednesday and plan my meals around these.  My goal is to not have anything left each week. Thanks to this box, I've tried many things that I hadn't in my previous life as a salad-dodger.  I've discovered a new love for chard, asparagus and the more unusual varieties of British grown apples.  I've eaten cauliflower cooked about ten ways, and more types of stir fry than I can count.

But the point of it all is that I'm better for it.  I have more energy and my taste buds are more alive.  I'm not opposed to the odd take-out but if I eat processed food out of a can or jar, it just tastes so bland and sugary to me now.  It is more time-consuming than heating up a jar of pasta sauce, but now that I'm used to taking the time and eating properly, it doesn't seem like a hassle anymore.

So I guess you could say that fresh food is one of my soap box issues now.  It drives me mad to see people existing on take-out or claiming that they don't have the time or money to cook properly.  Lacking the skill I can understand, I was there too, but making a fresh pasta sauce takes minutes and a stir fry not much more.  My husband and I both work full time and from home in the evenings too but we make the time for cooking because it's important to us to eat properly and enjoy what we are eating.  We still eat junk every now and again and chocolate does feature in our cupboards, but it's all about balance.

What about you?  Do you think a lot about the food you eat?  And does anyone have any amazing cookbook recommendations?


  1. I know exactly what you mean. I joined a well known slimming club about 18 months ago in the bid to lose weight (which I have done) but it taught me to eat from scratch, and so I have. No more jars and packets of sauces, it is now spilling out from my spice cupboard, it started as a small shelf and now has overtaken a whole cupboard.

    I love cooking, and my latest challenge was to have a different meal every evening for 4 weeks! Using recipe books and magazines, I have probably added a lot more meals that I can have and eaten food I would have avoided in the past.

    Now reading your post, and writing this I am hungry! I am off though to look at the veg box, it might be something good for me.

  2. This is a great post! I'm a firm believer in cooking from scratch and menu planning. Have you ever used a slow cooker? I love mine, especially in the fall & winter. My favorite slow-cooker cookbook at the moment is Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O'Dea.

    Also, there is a Weekend Cooking feature every Saturday hosted at Beth Fish Reads. People post about anything food related: books, movies, recipes, kitchen gadgets, etc. This post would be a big hit there... you may want to join in!

  3. I'm a big believer in home cooking because it's 100% more pleasurable than just buying a pizza or ready made pasta. I love, and take pride in making my own sauces and trying new things.

    I'm always hesitant about cooking with new meats in case I ruin it but you have to try! I made my first lamb shank meal the other say and whilst I don't have a recpie book to suggest here's my recommendation for a lamb shank recipe that you might like : )

    Happy cooking.

  4. Jo - my herb/spice collection is out of control too! I keep buying multiples because I don't know exactly what I have. And well done on cooking all those different meals, you must be spoilt for choice at dinner time!

    JoAnn - I've cooked a few stews and casseroles but never used a slow cooker. I'm not usually organised enough before work to get any prep done! I'll look into that recipe book though, slow cooking sounds like it might work for me on lazy Sundays.

    Louise - You're right, home cooking is so much more pleasurable. I've only cooked lamb shanks once, and I did them with herbs wrapped in foil, so I've bookmarked your recipe. Thanks :)

  5. I'm the last person to ask for cooking advice. I've heard of Jamie Oliver but only ate one of his recipes at one of my friend's . Italian housewives (I'm Italian) are supposed to be very good at cooking and always ready to make delicious meals for their families. My granny was like that, she was an excellent cook. Bit less my mother who worked all day long (but once retired she improved) and ... **blushes** ... finally me who am, unfortunately, very bad. Well, I'm an expert in simple fast-made dishes like pastas or salads or very naturally cooked meat or fish. Luckily my sons and husbands only like very simple stuff. Will I improve when I retire? Fact is I don't dream of retiring soon and become a housewife 24/7. So, lovely post but I'm afraid, I can't help :-)

  6. I'm not the best cook in the world, but I love to cook, I love the creativity of it and I especially love watching people I love really enjoy what I've made :-) I've got Jamie Oliver's 30 min meals which is brilliant. I also buy Good Food magazine (an aussie publication but I think it's based on a UK one?). And because I've got a toddler who won't eat vegetables I bake cakes and biscuits from Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious, which is recipes full of veggies, and you'd never know it!

    I think it's great that you get the box of seasonal fruit and veg and go from there - it's a great idea!

  7. Maria, simple, well-cooked food is often the best. It must have been great growing up with all that lovely Italian cooking around you!

    Danielle - I have 30 Min Meals as well, I love the piri piri chicken and the moroccan lamb chops. And as a salad-dodger, maybe Deceptively Delicious would be good for me too! :P

  8. Hi Sam, just dropping by quickly to let you know that I've awarded you The Versatile Blogger Award:

    Congratulations! :D