It will be no surprise to any of you that I love great foods and beverages, not just eating out but we love trying new foods and cooking techniques at home. We have a number of cooking toys at our place, from a charcoal barbecue, to the essential coffee machine – we have plenty of them and use them all quite regularly.
However, just because we have the equipment doesn’t mean we are chefs, in fact we have a huge collection of cookbooks and recipes we have collected over many years and are always looking for inspiration for things we can cook using produce we grow.
Nicola Galloway is a Nelson based chef, food writer and culinary tutor whose recipes appear weekly in this publication, in Your Weekend magazine as well as on the Stuff website and in the NZ Gardener magazine. We cook many of her recipes, not only do we end up with tasty food but the recipes always work and they use many of the foods we grow or have as store cupboard ingredients.
I caught up with Nicola last week to ask for a few tricks to Eating well without breaking the budget this Christmas and to find out a bit more about her fifth and latest cookbook – The Homemade Table.
She told me her love of cooking started when she was very young, “nana taught me to cook, she loved cooking and it rubbed off on to me. It led me to do my chef training when I left school but my GP parents were also interested in health so I got interested in and studied nutrition in my early 20’s.
“When I trained as a chef you would make a sauce with a ½ kilo of butter, it’s really tasty and ok occasionally but not all the time. Between cheffing and nutrition I have found a balance of tasty food and eating food that makes you feel good.”
Nicola says she believes cooking can be more than simply creating food for sustenance; it can also be enjoyed for the creativity it brings. “Maybe I’m a romantic, but I truly believe that if we put aside time to cook for the joy and satisfaction it brings rather than simply seeing it as a necessity, it can feed not only the body but also the mind and soul.”
She says she is inspired by different cuisines but it comes back to what’s fresh locally, “I look at what I have been able to harvest or buy, decide what I’m cooking and what spices and herbs will go with that. I tell people to have a real focus on seasonal produce then focus on what you enjoy, bring in flavours you prefer, ethnic flavours if you like those.
Nicola told me the key thing to remember is to cook and eat seasonal fruit and vegetables, “When they are in plentiful supply they are cheaper, fresher and packed with goodness.” We are told this all the time but supermarkets, in particular, tempt us with tasty looking imported produce all year round, and when it’s out of season it can be very expensive.
“People ask what’s my style of food? I don’t have a particular style, I cook all sorts of things but it depends on what’s fresh, what’s ready to pick in the garden, what’s at the market and specialty vege stores. I tend to do most of my fruits and vegetable shopping at these places, not just because they are often cheaper but because they tend to have fresher, in-season produce.”
She says price and freshness is a good indicator about what’s in season, “people complain about cucumbers and tomatoes being expensive in winter or spring but that’s because we’re in what’s called the hunger gap. Not much is ready to harvest in September and October, it’s when we start to run out of stored winter food and summer, new season produce isn’t available yet.
“In recent times I have noticed a more seasonal understanding of food supplies, people growing their own fruit and vegetables helps understand what’s in season and the media have changed food they write about, they tend to be more seasonally on point.
“My recipes are led by what’s truly in season and affordable for a very broad demographic. For example, a few months ago it was leeks that were plentiful and quite cheap, recently is has been asparagus and then we will start seeing the likes of cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes at more affordable prices.”
When it comes to food for Christmas, Nicola says “it’s a bit of a funny time, we’re just starting to get into the early summer harvest so there’s lot’s of berries around that are more affordable, recently strawberries have dropped in price but just be patient and you will be able to buy different berries at good prices, especially at market stalls. Things like new potatoes are widely available while beans are still a bit early but are starting to appear at a reasonable price.”
Even if we are on a budget Nicola says people tend to plan ahead for Christmas and save some money so they can buy special foods. “Christmas is a nice time to splash out a bit, there’s lovely cherries and stone fruit appearing around Christmas time, meats like ham and turkey are plentiful while chicken tends to be affordable year-round. Buying a ham might seem really expensive but if you break the cost down into the number of meals you can get from it or how many people you can feed then it is actually reasonably affordable.”
Buying smart is also important if you want to make the most of Christmas food, “buy things you can make multiple meals from, like the ham and then be more seasonal with vegetables.
“We barbecue a lot of vegetables, just keep it simple and tasty. After many years of having complex Christmas days now we all bring something different and put it on the table, rather than a few people having to do all the cooking and organising.
“Christmas can have an intense leadup, then on Christmas Day it’s a big meal and for the next few days it’s about relaxing and enjoying the summer, in many ways it’s the beginning of summer.
“One thing I love about summer in Nelson is picking your own berries, we always head out and do some berry picking. I love blackberries and boysenberries from Berryfields but if you can’t pick-your-own then go to the markets and buy fresh, local fruits. Craig from Tree Ripe always has wonderful fresh berries in season and early season apricots. He’s the orchardist and fronts at the stall too so you are talking with the guy who grows them.”
Nicola says the enjoyment of cooking is a big drive for her, “I get a lot of satisfaction from cooking” and she says to cook and eat for the enjoyment of it, keep the stress out of it, don’t think about what’s in fashion, think about what’s in season and what you like eating. Life is so busy we need to find ways to slow down, cooking does that, so just enjoy the process. It’s not going to happen every meal but at least a couple of times a week.”
Nicola’s latest book, The Homemade Table, celebrates just that. With over 170 recipes from seasonal everyday meal recipes to homemade staples including sourdough, preserves and homemade dairy products. It is an all-in-one cookbook, a home-cook’s kitchen essential book that comes with some very impressive endorsements, including this one from Lauraine Jacobs “I couldn’t be more excited about this brilliant new cookbook from one of my favourite New Zealand food writers. I want to devour everything! If you only buy one cookbook this year, this is it.”
Check out Nicola’s website for some tasty recipes and to buy her book as a Christmas gift to yourself, or someone else of course. www.homegrown-kitchen.co.nz