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