Hello! I’m Michaela – I’m a freelance private chef based in North Yorkshire.
I believe in eating well. By that I mean eating well for you. No single diet suits us all. Body types, exercise variations, dietary requirements, food allergies, illness, budget – can all affect what eating well means for an individual.
Discovering what eating well for you is can take time, and practice. Some people have no intolerances or allergies, a love of all food stuffs and the ability to buy whatever they would like to eat. Some people can’t be in the same room as a peanut for risk of anaphylactic shock, others have mental health challenges with eating, and specific food items, and for many the cost of quality ingredients is prohibitive.
Time is also a major factor in food choices. Over the past few years I have learned that convenience tends to be the ultimate factor when deciding what to eat. I love nothing more than to be in my kitchen at 6pm with 90 minutes of blissful cooking time in front of me. I tend not to think much when I’m cooking, it’s melodic, and my perfect mindful activity.
This does not happen every day! Stuff happens, plans change, so meals do too. I also appreciate that just because I find joy in doing this, does not mean that everyone does. I know I can help you eat well quickly. Jamie is right – you can have a great meal ready in 15 minutes, even taking into account all the home economics and video production support he has! Choose the right ingredients, embrace multi-tasking and you’re halfway there.
Meal prepping and bulk cooking really does help lower food costs too. Knowing your proteins is also a great help. Protein is often the most expensive element of a meal. Dietary advice states we should eat between 0.8 and 2g of protein (depending on activity levels and physical performance goals) per kilogram of body weight. That can add up to a lot of pennies on protein. Sources are varied in many ways - cost, dietary suitability and cooking technique.
I will offer suggestions for different proteins in every relevant recipe so you can adapt to suit your diet.
I understand the good diet challenges, so my aim is to share some knowledge with you that will give you the confidence to try things you haven’t tried before, or have tried and have not been satisfied with. I’m going to share some simple tips and tricks that will help with convenience, economy and importantly to me…….flavour!
I also want to share some knowledge of the science of ingredients and hope that with some understanding you’ll be in a better position to make good food choices for you, and for your cooking. If you have any questions you’d like answering you can get in touch with me through Instagram @fitchefharrogate or via e-mail email@example.com – I’d love to hear from you.
The Vegetable One...
The vegetable one – cauliflower (Brassica oleracea, variety botrytis)
I know… dull flavour, bland colour, tends to be introduced to your eating platform overcooked and tasteless. I have distant memories of steamy kitchens, coating skin and nostrils with funky damp weirdness! Saucepans of boiling brassicas and smells so unappealing that a dull sense of ‘urgh’ came over me when called to the table for Sunday lunch (not my parents, but a relative nonetheless…).
I didn’t enjoy roasts as a child… I didn’t like vegetables very much at all. I’d eat them (including the one obligatory brussels sprout on Christmas day) but there was no joy. They were usually overcooked and under-seasoned. What’s to love?
Cauliflower was one of the worst because the texture was just so odd, particularly when overcooked – similar to soggy trifle. I’m really selling this aren’t I?! All change!
Cauliflower is an awesome vegetable – true, the flavour levels can be on the low side as it is, but it carries flavour beautifully, and contrasting and complimentary flavours combine to make surprisingly delicious mouthfuls. Added to that it has a massive array of vitamins and minerals and good levels of fibre, which is important for digestive health.
How to transform this oft-despised vegetable into something tasty? Roast it. Whilst water is key to the survival of human kind, it is the enemy of flavour – it doesn’t taste of anything. Food is packed full of water, if we reduce the water content of food, it will increase the flavour – fact.
Roasting cauliflower, instead of submerging it in a pan of boiling water, will create more flavour profiles. If we add spices and seasoning, the possibilities are numerous. Here’s an idea for you that is mega simple, so when you next pass a mound of cauliflowers, pop one in your basket and have a play – they are cheap, versatile, and full of goodness.
• Preheat your oven to 200C (180C fan)
• In a large mixing bowl, pour 2 teaspoons of groundnut oil and 1 tsp cumin seeds for every portion of cauliflower you want to roast – I’m basing a portion on 80-100g
• Break or cut the cauliflower into florets, and if necessary, cut them into large bitesize pieces
• Put the cauliflower pieces into the mixing bowl with the oil and seeds and coat them well
• Transfer the cauliflower to a baking sheet lined with parchment (parchment not essential but it helps with washing up and will prevent sticking) and roast in the oven for 20 minutes (free time – do something else, you don’t need to watch it do it’s thing), turn the pieces over and roast for another 10 minutes (more free time…) – season with sea salt and pepper and eat!
This is great with curry, mixed with grains or just with a dollop of yoghurt, some pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley and mint. You can switch the cumin seeds for za’atar if you fancy more of a middle eastern flavour, and you can switch the cauliflower with carrots – don’t peel them, lots of goodness in the skin!
The seasoning one…
Salt (sodium chloride, NaCl)
I could write a dissertation on this, but none of us have the time for that so I’m going to stick to the salient points. What is it, why is it important for us, what the differences are and how to use it.
There’s no doubt salt has a bad reputation, and when we think of the quantities that can be consumed when eating processed food, it’s frightening. However, when we use whole, unprocessed ingredients, adding salt for flavour and nutrition is, to my mind, a positive step in cooking.
Salt is a combination of sodium and chlorine – sodium chloride. These elements are essential for our daily functioning as they help our brains and nerves send electrical impulses, contract and relax muscle fibres and maintain fluid balance. According to NHS guidelines adults should eat no more than 6g salt a day, equivalent to 2.4g sodium (be mindful of food labelling when looking for this information as there is a difference), and if you are adding salt to food during cooking, it is simple enough to ensure this is the case.
Let’s think about three different types of salt for comparison: refined salt, sea salt and Himalayan salt.
Refined salt – the most common and usually highly refined. It is highly ground and most of the impurities and trace minerals have been removed during the purification process. To be classed as table salt it must be 97% pure sodium chloride or higher.
Sea salt – this is my most favourite. Made by evaporating sea water, I like being able to vary the size of the flakes by crushing them between my fingers and thumb, depending on what I’m using it for. The minerals and impurities that can be left in the sea salt may also affect the taste of the salt – the darker the salt, the more impurities and trace nutrients.
Himalayan salt – mined in Pakistan from the Khewra salt mine – the second largest in the world. The pink colour is trace amounts of iron oxide (rust), and it also has trace amounts of calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium, slightly lower in sodium than table salt.
So! The question you’ve all been waiting for – what’s the difference in taste? Depends how you are using it. If you are adding any of these salts to a dish in which it is going to dissolve, I challenge anyone to be able to distinguish the difference (note to self – blind taste test opportunity).
However if you are adding the salt, for example, to a piece of meat after it has been cooked, the size of the grain can affect how much of a salty flavour ‘pow’ you get when the food is eaten, and the mouthfeel of the salt will also vary.
Let’s have some practical uses – here are my top five salty tips:
1. Always, always, always salt water that you are cooking vegetables in (caveat – unless it’s for children – check out NHS guidelines for the recommended salt levels for young people) – the vegetables absorb the seasoning while they are cooking and you don’t then need to season afterwards, same for pasta by the way – and you can taste the difference, try it
2. Tomatoes – naturally sweet (or should be if eaten at the right time of year) the contrast of a touch of salt makes for zingy deliciousness – either slice/chop your tomatoes and sprinkle with a little sea salt, or – cut cherry tomatoes in half, place them on a baking sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil (not virgin oil – more on that another time), sprinkle on some sea salt and black pepper, a touch of dried oregano if you have some, and slowly dry them in an oven for two ish hours at 110C fan. Have a bowlful in the fridge at all times, they add bursts of yum to so many different things – try tossed in some freshly cooked pasta with some garlic and basil leaves.
3. Salt draws water out of protein, that’s how meat and fish is cured. If you season a piece of meat or fish too long before you cook it, it will draw moisture and create a wet surface – this is not what you want when searing it in a frying pan, or even roasting it in the oven. The moisture creates steam and prevents the all important searing. So! Either season just before you’re going to introduce the protein to heat, or, if you are purposefully using salt to draw out moisture or to firm up a piece of fish for example (popular method for chefs – I’ll add that to the list) then make sure when the salting time is up, that you deftly rinse off the salt and pat very dry before searing.
4. Reducing sauces and liquids will increase the salt flavour without having to add any, so be wary of this. The reduction process is driving off water, and so intensifying flavour, including salt! Season tentatively to start and as you go, tasting to check that you are happy with the levels, and then do your final check just before you serve.
5. Boiled eggs and soldiers – this is culinary gold here, I can assure you of that. Season your soldiers… Eggs are one of my most favourite ingredients, I have them nearly every day for breakfast and a yolk coated soldier is a thing of joy guaranteed to get your day off to a good start (apologies vegans and those with egg intolerances).
However, like most things, eggs benefit greatly from a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Not having time to season after every dip, the most useful thing to do is to season your toast after you’ve buttered it is to sprinkle on some sea salt and ground black pepper before you cut it into the soldiers – every bite, perfectly seasoned. You Are Welcome!
The science one…
There are so many! I’d like to share some information with you that will assist you in choosing the right one for the right purpose.
Classed as fats and used in so many cooking processes using the right oil for the right job is important not just for flavour, but for health reasons too.
Oils are the product of two processes – extraction and pressing. The chemical composition of each oil is different, and that’s how we determine which should be used for what. Smoke point is one of the most important bits of information to consider when making your choice.
This is the temperature at which the oil stops shimmering and starts smoking. Now this isn’t always a problem – it’s inevitable when stir frying or sealing a piece of meat that you’re going to produce smoke, however there are times when this is not what we want. The smoke indicates that the oil is breaking down and when this happens chemicals can be released that make food taste burnt or bitter. Free radicals can also be released, and these are known to harm the body. So here is a list of oils in common use, the relative smoke points, and also whether or not the flavour is neutral:
Type of fat Smoke point °C Neutral?
Refined avocado oil 270°C Yes
Light/refined olive oil 240°C Yes
Peanut oil 230°C Yes
Sunflower oil 225°C Yes
Vegetable oil 205-230°C Yes
Avocado oil 190-205°C No
Duck fat 190°C No
Coconut oil 175°C No
Extra virgin olive oil 165-190°C No
In simple terms, the higher up the list, the hotter the oil can become before smoking. In addition to the smoke point factor, there are three other considerations you might want to think about when making your choice.
Flavour or neutral..?
Oils with flavour offer fantastic additions to dishes. Using nut oils to dress salads and dishes with the same nut in adds interest and complexity, adding sesame oil to Asian dishes is a delicious touch. Experiment with different unrefined oils in cold and low-heat recipes so you find out which you like.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules, it’s purely personal preference. If you are frying, I would recommend a neutral oil as they tend to have higher smoke points, and there will be occasions where you don’t want to use a fat with flavour – the jury is still out on whether duck fat or sunflower oil is best for roast potatoes! Remember than fats are good for us, essential in fact, so explore the flavours and find out which are your favourites.
Saturated or unsaturated..?
Personally, so long as a fat is naturally occurring, I’m happy to eat it. I’ll choose unsaturated more than saturated – however I find a beautifully crisp piece of lamb belly, a generous sprinkling of parmesan on a pasta dish or an egg fried in butter absolutely irresistible. I choose to enjoy these in moderation and balance with unsaturated fats. The general rule of thumb is that if a fat is solid at room temperature it is likely to be saturated, if it is liquid it is likely to be unsaturated.
Many unsaturated fats are found in oily fish, seeds, nuts and avocados and are essential for our bodily functions as we cannot produce the fatty acids these fats contain.
Unrefined or refined..?
Oils are produced through extraction and pressing processes. Consumers may choose to only use oil from the pressing method as it is thought to be less processed and a more natural product. When extracted or pressed oils are bottled straight away and left in their natural state they are unrefined (also known as cold-pressed, raw or virgin).
These oils tend to be full of flavour and are particularly good for dressing food – drizzlable and delicious, particularly when contrasted with an hit of acidity. Avoid cooking with them above a very low heat as, chances are they are usually in the low smoke point category – I think of them as fragile and so treat them with care.
Conversely if an oil is processed it will have been through filtering bleaching, heated to remove the volatile compounds that cause it to breakdown, and then bottled – safe in the knowledge it has a wider range of cooking uses. It will have a long shelf life, is flavourless and should, in my opinion, be avoided for dressings and drizzlings, but is perfect for any kind of frying and marinading.
Here’s a quick oil and herb based sauce for you that goes with so many different meats, fish and vegetables – I can attest to that as it was requested every day by a client of mine last year during his 10-day holiday from America to the UK, he had it with everything from aubergine parmigiana to fillet of beef – my version of salsa verde:
Finely chop a couple of shallots, or a banana shallot, place in a shallow dish and cover with red wine vinegar – about two tablespoons.
Then, in a small food processor or large pestle and mortar if you have one, whizz or bish two salted anchovy fillets with a small pinch of sea salt, then add the leaves from small bunches of parsley and basil (you’ll likely need to do this bit by bit if using the P&M) and a good glug (best guess - two tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil.
Whizz or bish them up to a puree, adding more oil (about 120ml in total – eight tablespoons) until you have a cauldron of green goop – don’t take it to completely smooth as a little texture is enjoyable. Transfer green goop to a mixing bowl, add the shallots and vinegar and a tablespoon of capers – taste for seasoning. You’re looking for the right balance between oily richness and the sharpness that comes from the vinegar and bite from the shallots and capers – there is no ‘right’ in my opinion, it’s what you enjoy that matters, so adjust to your taste. One of my favourite dishes to have with this is roast pork (whichever cut you enjoy) and chorizo and confit tomato butter bean stew………. lip-smackingly-yum!