Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Slattern’s Guide to… the kitchen

Let’s get one thing straight. Slattern is not a synonym for lazy cow. You can pack up all those preconceptions and mental images of kitchens piled to the ceiling in half empty take-away boxes and unfinished Pot Noodles. That is not the way of the slattern – well, not every day.

At heart, the true slattern is a hedonist – actually, she’s a HEDONIST is bold capitals. She loves the good things in life, so she savours the smells, tastes, textures and even the sounds of good food. She also loves to experiment. She just does it HER way.

Of course, there’s plenty of room in the gastronomic life of a slattern for those precious moments shoveling instant noodles into your mouth as you catch up on that vintage movie no-one else ever wanted to see, chewing cold leftover pizza in front of the open fridge for breakfast, scoffing peanut butter by the spoonful whilst you wait for your beloved to finish shaving, or eating baked beans straight from the tin when no-one is looking. It’s all part of life’s rich culinary tapestry.

But there are times when we have to put on a show and play the hostess. 

Instead of being a terrifying ordeal, this is a chance to get down, dirty and diggidly creative in front of the saucepan. It’s an adventure, often an experiment, and there may be collateral damage along the way. But above all, it will be fun and – with luck - tasty.

Just be sure to warn those you share your life with that the kitchen will probably look more like it’s been visited by the poltergeist spectre of Jackson Pollock than the smoothing spirit of a domestic goddess. 

When I cook up a storm, the scene owes more to Diaghilev than Nigella, so the faint-hearted are told to keep their distance. Stray pets enter the kitchen at their peril (and soon beat a hasty retreat at the first sound of banging saucepans). 

For the slattern, food is both about the journey and the destination – but her dining partners would do well to just wait patiently at the table.

Well-trained guests who resist the urge to visit the heaving collection of bubbling cauldrons and piles of vegetable waste in your kitchen may even be fooled into thinking you are a genuine Domestic Goddess (capital D, capital G).

It’s a handy trick when trying to impress, so here are a few tips:
  • Forget food styling – Life’s too short for a molecule’s worth of pilaf accompanied by a sole lentil and a quartered fig artfully arranged in the upper left-hand of a pure black plate to represent the ultimate futility and artifice of life.
    Tell your guests that you embrace the rustic school of cooking – that way you can get away with dumping messy dollops of your delicious offerings on mismatched plates and calling it art.
  • Embrace short cuts – Are you seriously going to tell me you can tell when your hostess has spent the past 24 hours creating her own puff pastry from scratch (make the dough, fold in butter, roll out and fold three times, chill for an hour, then repeat the whole process ad nauseum)?
    I certainly can’t, especially when it has a shedload of creamy fruity sweetness or a tower of tasty roast veg and cheese added. Ready-made puff pastry is quick and easy – bish, bash, bosh and there you go, ready to have fun with the topping.
    The same goes for tinned beans, chickpeas et al versus the more politically correct dried versions that have to be soaked overnight and boiled for at least an hour before you can even start. Save yourself the grief and boredom and reach for the tinned section every time – no-one will ever know, or care. Jars of ready minced garlic and ginger are also big on saving time, not to mention your nails and knuckles.
  • The freezer is your friend – From frozen veg or fresh herbs to chuck into your creations for a last minute splash of colour, through to sauces, soups, doughs and entire family meals (“Here’s one I made earlier”), the freezer is a life saver.
    Just ask my mum. Though she’s the absolute antithesis of a slattern who could teach both Mary Berry and Martha Stewart a thing or two, she has three – yes, count them, three – freezers packed with enough goodies to see us all through the zombie apocalypse. You’ll never go hungry at Pauline’s, that’s for sure.
  • Go by the book, then throw it away – Create your own unique signature dishes by adapting the original recipe according to your tastes or (more likely) what's hiding in the cupboard. That way, you can graciously give impressed guests the recipe from your piles of Jamie/Nigella/Mary/Heston/whoever cookbooks - but they will NEVER be able to replicate your masterpiece.
  • Save your presentation skills for yourself - Cooking the slattern’s way is a glorious but messy business, so you’re going to get a little disheveled. Or a lot. Cooking naked isn't an option (potentially embarrassing and downright dangerous). So you can either you can carefully cultivate a Boho persona which embraces stray locks of hair, random stains, sweaty cheeks and smudged eyeliner, or chuck an old oversized shirt over your hostess clothes and keep a box of wet wipes , whatever clips/hairbands/bandanas/fascinators you might need and a basic make-up kit hidden in the back of the fridge for a last-minute make-over.
  • Just enjoy the damn food! It doesn’t matter if you tuck into your risotto and Mediterranean veg with a big smear of balsamic cream across your forehead. It's just one more thing that will make it a meal to remember.
Bon appetite, slattern sisters!

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