Queen of Carbs

In a world of rules and guilt, Chelsea Win­ter cooks for pure eat­ing plea­sure

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Three recipes from Chelsea’s new book (warn­ing: may con­tain gluten, cream and choco­late...)

What’s your re­sponse to crit­ics who say you use too much sugar, or but­ter, or meat?

I think with all the hoo-hah that’s go­ing on around what you should and shouldn’t eat, it’s giv­ing peo­ple – iron­i­cally – an un­healthy re­la­tion­ship with food. My big thing is mod­er­a­tion. That’s the key. So all the bak­ing and desserts in my book have sugar in them. And prob­a­bly but­ter. It’s not stuff you want to be eat­ing all day, ev­ery day. But as part of a bal­anced diet... at least it’s home­made, at least you know where the sugar is, you’ve put it in your­self, you’ve seen what’s gone in there, and you’re hav­ing a treat for pud­ding. And hope­fully you’ve made your din­ner from scratch so you know ex­actly what’s gone in there, too, so there’s none of that added sugar. I like my sugar where it’s meant to be. How do you feel about chefs or cooks who’ve veered into this realm of of­fer­ing nu­tri­tional ad­vice they’re not qual­i­fied to?

It’s not re­ally my busi­ness to com­ment on what any­one else is do­ing. But I think peo­ple need to be care­ful about what they sub­scribe to, and fol­low their own in­tu­ition, more than any­thing. There’s no magic pill, there’s no quick fix, there’s no mir­a­cle diet. What’s your re­sponse to peo­ple who cite time and cost as rea­sons they don’t or can’t make things from scratch? We of­ten hear mes­sages about how fresh/ healthy food is more ex­pen­sive than pro­cessed food…

If you tell peo­ple that, then of course they’re go­ing to use that as an ex­cuse to buy shitty food. It’s just about be­ing sen­si­ble. A lot of my recipes don’t take that much time. I think peo­ple are busy, but if you re­ally look at how much time you spend in the day on Face­book or watch­ing TV, or do­ing stuff that pos­si­bly could wait till later, spend­ing half an hour or 40 min­utes mak­ing din­ner... I don’t want to ruf­fle any feath­ers, but I think eat­ing is one of the most im­por­tant things you can do for your health, so it makes sense to put en­ergy and time into that be­fore all these other things.

I don’t think it’s re­al­is­tic to say: “You need to have a home-cooked meal ev­ery night” – it’s just not go­ing to hap­pen. But as of­ten as pos­si­ble. I think it’s so good for us, it’s good to teach your kids, it’s good for your body, it’s good for your soul.

It’s em­pow­er­ing. I get so many peo­ple say to me: “I used to be such a crap cook and my fam­ily hated ev­ery­thing I served up.” They’re so mean to them­selves about it. And I say: “Look, clearly you just haven’t had a recipe that’s worked for you yet.” It’s all about giv­ing peo­ple that con­fi­dence in the kitchen, too. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to be like MasterChef. It just needs to taste good and be nu­tri­tious. You’ve just re­leased your fifth book. Why do you think peo­ple are still at­tracted to cook­books as phys­i­cal objects, when recipes are avail­able in dig­i­tal for­mats?

I think there’s a cer­tain ro­mance about hav­ing a book, with beau­ti­ful photos of food, por­ing through it, feel­ing like you’re con­nect­ing with the au­thor a lit­tle bit – I’m writ­ing ev­ery­thing in my own voice, so it’s like I’m talk­ing to peo­ple – choos­ing which recipe to make, and hav­ing it sit­ting there on the bench to re­fer to. To go: “I’m just go­ing to Google a recipe” and then it comes up and you’ve got to swipe around with your wet, grubby fin­ger on the screen and it won’t work and you’re wor­ried about dam­ag­ing [your phone] – it’s just not the same.

There are mil­lions of recipes you can Google and it’s a mine­field, man. Some of them aren’t tested, some of them are writ­ten badly. I spend a great deal of time writ­ing my recipes from scratch in a way that I think peo­ple can un­der­stand, then I spend even more time in this kitchen here test­ing them, un­til I’m sat­is­fied that every­one can make this, and it’s go­ing to work. Com­pared to cook­books our mums used, which were just com­pi­la­tions of recipes, the ones to­day al­most sell a life­style. Why do you think they’ve moved in that di­rec­tion?

I’m al­ways care­ful not to take it too far in the lifesty­ley di­rec­tion, be­cause I’m not a life­style guru… What even is that?!

I know, right? I don’t want to be preachy, and I don’t think I’m bet­ter than any­one else with what I cook and stuff. I try and keep my cook­books pretty sim­ple – they’ve got an in­tro at the front, which ba­si­cally says: “Eat home-cooked food as much as you can, and you’re on the right track”, and I have some photos of me do­ing what I do, wear­ing my nor­mal clothes. I just feel like there’s so many dif­fer­ent things out there – fad di­ets and celebrity-en­dorsed di­ets and trendy in­gre­di­ents and it’s kind

“Eat­ing is one of the most im­por­tant things you can do for your health, so it makes sense to put en­ergy and time into that.”

of con­fus­ing. So I’ve re­ally with­drawn my­self from that. I just pay at­ten­tion to what I think taste good and feels good, as well.

We’ve got so many more in­gre­di­ents at our dis­posal. I travel quite a lot and I don’t go to a coun­try and think: “Man I wish we had that sort of thing here.” Apart from the bread in France. So I think our recipes have de­vel­oped heaps tak­ing bits and pieces from all these dif­fer­ent cul­tures. And I think now the food styling’s a bit bet­ter. Gone are the sprigs of pars­ley or the old chive ae­ri­als, I sup­pose they’re quite charm­ing as well, in a way… Will cook­books stay your thing or are you want­ing to diver­sify a bit?

For now, cook­books are def­i­nitely my thing. It’s what I love to do... I re­ally feel like there’s a nice syn­ergy with ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing in my life right now. It feels good, and when things feel good, I keep do­ing them. I’m not a big plan­ner, I kind of live in­tu­itively. At the mo­ment, cook­books are def­i­nitely it. I’m al­ready think­ing about the next one. Young peo­ple go­ing into flat­ting sit­u­a­tions of­ten don’t know how to cook and aren’t pre­pared to cook for and feed them­selves. If you were to go into a stu­dent flat for a week or a month, what skills or recipes would you im­part as a foun­da­tion they can build from?

The first thing that springs to mind is the poor old packet of mince boiled to within an inch of its life, go­ing all grey and stink­ing out the house. Cook­ing meat, there are lots of things you ac­tu­ally kinda need to know, there are ways to do it to bring the best out. For in­stance, a packet of mince – you don’t just get it out of the pack and slop it into the pan, cold and half frozen in sort of a luke­warm pan, and let it sit there and bub­ble. It’s go­ing to be dis­gust­ing. The sim­ple act of mak­ing a bolog­nese for ex­am­ple. I’m sure a lot of peo­ple just stew some mince, flop in a jar of sauce and let that bub­ble for a few min­utes and prob­a­bly don’t sea­son it and you won­der why they’re like: “Ugh, I’ve been put off it for­ever.”

So I’d go in and say, look, take that packet of mince out of the fridge an hour or half an hour be­fore you cook it, pat it dry, have the pan nice and hot with some oil in there. Put half the mince in at a time, break it, let it go brown, stir it, let the other bits go­ing brown, put that aside, do the next batch. Then with all the nice browny bits in the pan, you saute your onions over a medium heat with a nice olive oil un­til they go all caramelised and yel­low and that adds sweet­ness to the dish. Lots of peo­ple would just hack up an onion and put it in, cook it too hot, singe the edges, mid­dle’s raw. There are many lit­tle things like that. Then you put the meat back in, then you put in heaps of toma­toes and let it sim­mer down and add lit­tle bits and pieces – herbs, tomato paste, maybe a bit of wine – so in­stead of this gross, bland, rub­bery thing, you’ve got this beau­ti­ful, fra­grant meal. I re­mem­ber the cus­tard square in­ci­dent of 2015 [where a fan posted a photo of a Chelsea Win­ter cus­tard square that had im­ploded, on her Face­book page, which sub­se­quently made in­ter­na­tional head­line]. You’re not ex­actly a con­tro­ver­sial pub­lic fig­ure but has there been the odd thing that you’re like: “I can’t be­lieve the me­dia picked up on that?” The phal­lic car­rot In­sta­gram springs to mind...

It is what it is. Ba­si­cally what­ever the me­dia wants to pick up and put up there, that’s fine by me. I know where I am and what I’m do­ing and what my fans en­joy and that’s all that mat­ters to me. Any­thing that gets clicks will get put up on­line these days, but I don’t sub­scribe to all that. I don’t gen­er­ally read on­line news. I try and watch the news at night, or read the pa­per. Food and its abil­ity to bring peo­ple to­gether and nour­ish them are ob­vi­ously themes in your books. But has it ever been more com­pli­cated than that – are you some­one who’ll eat a whole packet of bis­cuits when you’re stressed out? You seem very sen­si­ble.

I love my blow-outs, eh. When that Caramilk choco­late came out re­cently, the strug­gle was real to stop it. I’d eat half a block of that, sit down at the end of the night and be like, shall we have some more? And then they cru­elly took it away from us...

I know. Isn’t that sad? I kind of think that what you do most of the time is what mat­ters, and what you do a small per cent of the time doesn’t mat­ter so much. Ev­ery now and then we’ll bust out a packet of chips and demo that. Again, it’s that “ev­ery­thing in mod­er­a­tion” thing. Driv­ing down to the Mount to see Dad, we might stop at Macca’s on the way and get a combo. I’m not too pre­cious for that stuff. I live in the real world and some­times you just feel like a Big Mac. Or a McChicken, usu­ally.

“You don’t just slop mince, cold and half frozen, into a luke­warm pan and let it sit there and bub­ble. It’s go­ing to be dis­gust­ing.”

LIGHT­NING CHICKEN WITH THYME CREAM

Prep time: 5 min­utes / Cook time: 20 min­utes Serves: 4-6 1kg chicken thighs (bone-in or bone­less, skin-on or

skin­less) Neu­tral oil, e.g. grape­seed, for fry­ing 25g but­ter 2 cloves gar­lic, crushed ¹∕³ cup white wine 1½ cups cream 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves Why “light­ning” chicken? Be­cause it’s as quick as light­ning to pre­pare! The trick is to make sure you get a good golden colour on the thighs when you sear them, be­cause it’s that colour that cre­ates the flavour of the sauce.

Re­move the chicken from the fridge 30-60 min­utes be­fore cook­ing. Pat the chicken dry with pa­per tow­els. Sea­son on both sides with salt and pep­per, be­ing quite gen­er­ous.

Heat 1-2 ta­ble­spoons of the oil in a large fry­ing pan over a fairly high heat. When very hot, add the chicken (skin-side down if it has skin). You may need to do this in two batches – don’t crowd the pan or the chicken might start stew­ing.

Leave the chicken to fry with­out turn­ing un­til it has turned a deep golden brown colour on one side. Turn over and brown the other side. You can turn the chicken back over a cou­ple of times to get it look­ing browner and crispier. Also, the more crusty brown stuff that builds up in the bot­tom of the pan, the bet­ter.

When both sides of the chicken are lovely and brown, set aside on a plate or roast­ing tray.

Tip any ex­cess oil from the pan and re­place over a medium heat. Add the but­ter and gar­lic and swish it around for 30 sec­onds. Add the wine, in­crease the heat to high, and let it bub­ble rapidly for about 30-60 sec­onds to evap­o­rate the al­co­hol – it should re­duce by about half.

Stir in the cream and thyme, then add the chicken and any rest­ing juices. Re­duce the heat to medium-high and let ev­ery­thing sim­mer un­til the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has re­duced down to a nice con­sis­tency – not too thick; it’s quite a rich sauce. If it be­comes too thick, sim­ply add more cream and sim­mer again un­til you’re happy with it. Sea­son to taste with salt and pep­per.

Serve with steamed greens and mash, new pota­toes, pasta, bul­ghur wheat or rice.

FISH WITH HERB SAUCE & CRISPY CA­PERS

Prep time: 15 min­utes / Cook time: 15 min­utes Serves: 4-5 ¼ cup ca­pers, drained Neu­tral oil, e.g. grape­seed, for fry­ing the ca­pers 800g white fish fil­lets (snap­per or tarak­ihi) ¼ cup plain flour or corn­flour

SAUCE

50g but­ter, plus ex­tra for fry­ing 1 clove gar­lic, crushed zest of 1 lemon 1½ tbsp lemon juice ¹∕³ cup finely chopped fresh soft herbs (pars­ley, dill,

thyme, chives) When you have beau­ti­ful fresh fish, it’s tempt­ing to cook it with noth­ing but a bit of but­ter and lemon. Some­times, though, it’s nice to do some­thing a lit­tle fancier. The fish is still the star of the show, but I’ve added a few lovely fresh flavours to take it from an ev­ery­day dish to some­thing spe­cial. As al­ways, it’s quick and easy to pre­pare – just don’t over­cook the fish! This goes per­fectly

with a fresh green salad, or green beans in win­ter.

Drain the ca­pers on a pa­per towel to get any ex­cess mois­ture off.

Heat 2cm of the neu­tral oil in a very small saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the drained ca­pers and fry for a few min­utes un­til the ca­pers puff up and open out. Re­move with a slot­ted spoon and drain on pa­per tow­els.

To make the sauce, melt the but­ter in a small fry­ing pan over a medium-low heat and add the gar­lic. Cook gen­tly for 5 min­utes or so, but don’t brown the gar­lic. Add the lemon zest and juice, stir and set aside off the heat.

Pat the fish fil­lets dry with pa­per tow­els. Sea­son with salt and pep­per, then dust with flour or corn­flour (you can dredge it on a plate or shake in a bag). Shake off the ex­cess.

Place 25g but­ter in a large fry­ing pan over a medi­umhigh heat. When the pan is hot and the but­ter foams, place a few fish fil­lets in the pan. Turn them over when the un­der­side is deep golden, then cook on the other side for a minute or so – you ac­tu­ally want the fish to be just un­der­cooked when you take it out of the pan (it will fin­ish cook­ing out of the pan).

Rest the fish, lightly cov­ered with foil, on a warm plate while you cook the re­main­ing fil­lets (add more but­ter to the pan as needed).

When you’re ready to serve, add the fresh herbs to the lemony but­ter and mix to com­bine, then taste and sea­son with salt and pep­per if need be.

Serve the fish with the herb sauce driz­zled over the top and sprin­kled with some fried ca­pers. It’s lovely with a fresh salad and some Crunchy Potato Wedges (see Eat for the recipe).

COOK­IES & CREAM DREAM

Prep time: 30 min­utes plus 4+ hours set­ting time Makes: about 20 pieces

BASE

350g choco­late cook­ies (a choco­late cookie

prefer­ably with choc chips in it) 100g but­ter, soft­ened ½ cup rolled oats 3 tbsp co­coa or ca­cao pow­der 1 tsp pure vanilla ex­tract or paste Pinch salt

COOK­IES & CREAM FILL­ING

200g but­ter, at room tem­per­a­ture, cubed 250g cream cheese, at room tem­per­a­ture 125g good-qual­ity white choco­late, chopped 3 tbsp cream 2½ cups ic­ing sugar 1 tbsp corn­flour 1 tsp pure vanilla ex­tract or paste ¼ tsp salt ¾ cup finely chopped dark choco­late

CHOCO­LATE TOP­PING

150g good-qual­ity dark choco­late (at least 50% co­coa

solids), chopped 1 tbsp olive oil OK, so this slice is a lit­tle bit out­ra­geous – I think it’s the equiv­a­lent of the Snick­a­li­cious Slice from Scrump­tious, ac­tu­ally. Which means it’s go­ing to be a pop­u­lar one be­cause you guys are just so naughty. It’s creamy and sweet, as it should be – so you only need lit­tle slices. This was Mike’s favourite of all the sweets in this book – ex­cite­ment al­ways en­sued af­ter din­ner when he re­alised there was a con­tainer of it in the fridge. He’d have this and I’d have Choco­late Orange Sher­bet Slice (see Eat for the recipe).

Re­move the but­ter and cream cheese for the fill­ing from the fridge 30 min­utes or so be­fore you start, so they can come to room tem­per­a­ture. If you’re rushed for time, you can mi­crowave each sep­a­rately on a low heat for 20 sec­onds or so.

Line the base and sides of a 20cm x 20cm (or near enough) slice tin with bak­ing pa­per.

Crum­ble the cook­ies up into a food pro­ces­sor and add the but­ter, rolled oats, co­coa or ca­cao, vanilla and salt. Process to a very fine crumb, then tip into the pre­pared tin and press firmly into an even layer.

Put the chopped white choco­late and cream in a ce­ramic or glass mix­ing bowl and mi­crowave on high for 1 minute. Stir un­til smooth. You can mi­crowave for an­other 30 sec­onds if it needs it. Set aside.

Beat the but­ter in a large mix­ing bowl on medium speed for a cou­ple of min­utes un­til pale and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat again un­til well com­bined. Sift in the ic­ing sugar and corn­flour, add the vanilla and salt and beat un­til smooth.

Scrape the melted choco­late and cream into the cream cheese mix­ture and stir or beat on a low speed un­til smooth, scrap­ing the sides of the bowl as you go.

Fold the chopped dark choco­late through the mix­ture un­til com­bined.

Scrape the mix­ture out on top of the base, smooth with a spat­ula or the back of a warmed spoon, cover and re­frig­er­ate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

You can add the ic­ing af­ter the base has firmed up in the fridge for at least an hour. Mi­crowave the choco­late in the same way you did for the fill­ing above. Stir in the oil and spread on top of the fill­ing with the back of a spoon. Re­frig­er­ate again un­til set.

Slice into pieces when it’s well chilled, then keep the slices in an air­tight con­tainer in the fridge for up to a week. It will soften quite a bit in warm weather if it’s out of the fridge. Recipes ex­tracted from Eat by Chelsea Win­ter, pub­lished by Ran­dom House NZ, RRP $50.

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