Carving with your eyes shut

I’ve avoided roasting joints of meat as they can be too difficult to carve elegantly without sight.  See  https://youtu.be/gJTOoOTXBPA

how, In Australia, I learned one way of getting around the problem.

I was in the Sydney home kitchen of chef and lecturer Martin who is also visually impaired and who shares his recipes, hints and tips through his website: www.enabledcooking.com.

We were making a straightforward rack of lamb with Middle eastern flavours: baba ghanoush, pomegranate seeds, slivers of toasted almonds, sheep’s yoghurt and mint.  We seared the meat to give it some colour and flavour.  Not the easiest task for two blind cooks.  Martin judged it by time: about a minute each side.  I relied more on hearing and touch: the hot oil in the pan sizzles madly when the raw meat  is first added but calms as water  is evaporated;  don’t move the meat in the pan until the sound has reduced; when you do turn the meat, the side that has just been seared will feel hot and much firmer, even a little crisp in places.

About 10-12 minutes in the oven and the same again resting and we were ready to carve.  The joint could have been designed for it: a “rack” describes the row of lamb or pork ribs before they are separated out in to individual chops.  You can run a finger down your side and feel your own rack of ribs.  Lamb racks are often “French trimmed”: the fat and sinew cleaned off the bones so that just the meaty part of the chops remain below the separated and shortened bones – they stick out like a row of soldiers.

And those bones are the answer to blind carving.  You can hold them to get a good grip of the joint without touching the bits that will be eaten.  Then a sharp knife just follows the line of the bone from top to bottom and the first serving is ready.  Simply repeat between each soldier and the job’s done!

Then Martin’s accompaniments add the taste of the Middle East.  Toasting almonds or any other nuts or seeds without sight depends mainly on your sense of smell when you can’t see.  I use a non-stick frying pan without oil and add the nuts or seeds while it is heating up.  After a few minutes, you can smell them becoming toasted, so it is time to give them a stir to cook the other side.  Seeds tend to be easier as you can also hear them start popping.  The trick is to take them off the heat early before they start burning.  If there’s any risk, pour the pan contents on to a cold plate to stop them cooking further.

Next time, Eddie’s Iranian barbecue brings more of those Middle Eastern flavours.

Good cooking!

Penny

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WORLD BAKING DAY

 

See me https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWTJYx7jGA3xaR4830wJSRg

cook breads in San Francisco and Virginia beach, cakes in Costa Rica and Chongqing, scones in Kiama , éclairs in Melbourne and even cooking over an open fire in Malawi.  I know just how wonderful it is to share good food with people world-wide.  Making new friends, swapping know-how and laughter is the perfect recipe for  building new friendships – barriers of language, culture, disability and more just disappear!

I wonder who decides what we celebrate and why?  But who cares if today is an excuse to make a delicious cake, a brilliant biscuit or beguiling bread? 

One of my best baking days was with John for Comic Relief https://youtu.be/6SaB88MiUu4

We made flapjacks, pecan pie and much more in an indulgence of calories .  Clearly, World Baking Day needs to be followed by weeks of World Diet Days.

 

Top tips from a professional blind chef

Sydney’s professional Blind chef, Martin, gave me an expert lesson with fish – so straightforward that anyone can do it as you can see at https://youtu.be/R-JqsTefRf0

Already a highly experienced chef, Martin had lost his sight in his middle years but still has a very successful career teaching his skills to aspiring cooks and chefs at a local college in Sydney.  He goes further: keen to encourage anyone with limited sight or other difficulties to keep on cooking.  His website (www.enabledcooking.com) is a treasure trove of recipes, hints and tips – anyone can find great dishes and new ideas.

He welcomed me in to his own home kitchen where we made fish to be baked in a paper parcel (en papilotte if you want the posh French version).  With many stunning Asian flavours, this is perfect for entertaining: just make up the parcels earlier in the day and whack them in to the oven when your guests are arriving.  Just slide the cooked parcels on to plates so that everyone can open their own to experience the wonderful fragrances – and easy on the washing-up too!

Martin’s dish was a lesson in the organisational care that makes a good professional chef: everything ready beforehand so that adding each ingredient is easy and fast.  I’ve learned   that it works for visually impaired cooks too.  In the past, there have been too many times when I’ve wandered around the kitchen part-way through a recipe, hunting for an ingredient and leaving a sticky, messy trail behind me.  Getting every ingredeient and utensil out first seems a chore at the time but saves on clearing up later.

 

Our ever-supportive hosts, Ken and rosemary, had driven us the two hours from their seaside home in sleepy  Kiama to the thrusting energy of Sydney and threw in a short tour so Toby could catch some of those familiar skylines.  Even if I couldn’t see them, the distinctive image of the Opera House lives on in my head.

 

Famous chocolate cake comes to Baking Blind

Famous chocolate cake comes to Baking Blind: Jo and her cake are so renowned that they appear on the cover of the telephone book!  She was festooned with all her Country Women’s Association badges and awards when we cooked it together in Kiama, New South Wales, Australia https://youtu.be/6gjS2qauKQY

She is a very special baker: hugely knowledgeable, practical and great fun.  And, like any cook, generous in sharing her recipes too.  This cake is very straightforward to make: melt most of the ingredients together and then mix in the eggs and flour.  The result is incredibly liquid: more like a sauce than a familiar cake mix.    Pouring it in to the baking tin was even trickier for me without sight but we managed it.

Jo’s tip for an award-winning cake is to turn it out on to a cooling rack covered with a tea cloth.  This keeps the top flat and smooth, rather than trellised by the rack.  Just that extra care that separates the home cooks like me from the prize-winners like her.  No wonder she’s running a successful cake business.

The result is a cake that can be dressed up as much as you like: Jo’s cover cake was sandwiched around chocolate ganache and decorated with a chocolate flower.  She also uses this mix to make cup cakes and “cake pops” (rounds of cake impaled on a lolly stick, covered in more chocolate and dipped in sprinkles).

Its testimony to her skill and achievements that every home across the area has a picture of her and her cake on their telephone book.

Next time, meet professional blind chef, Martin, in Sydney.

 

Forces finalist

Here’s a short interview to read, hear and see about being a finalist in the Ex-Military in Business awards:

https://www.forces.net/military-life/veterans/british-ex-forces-business-penny-melville-brown

I’m in the “most inspirational” category which is probably where they put all of us who don’t fit in elsewhere – the story of my life!  There are nine other excellent contenders so I strongly suspect that   I won’t get pulled out of the hat next week.

But it will be good to show all the employers present that people with disabilities  have lots of workplace potential.  Its certainly time that more of them  recognised that just having a health condition doesn’t fry our brains or make us incapable of doing a good job.

 

 

Near Death

 

We’d had a magical morning with aboriginal bushtucker expert, Fred.  He’d introduced me to his wilderness “supermarket” where nature can provide nearly everything for survival.

There was lamandra: a type of grass that has rhubarb-like thick succulent bases to the stems that you can eat.  The seeds can be dried and ground for flour to mix with a little water and bake on a stone for basic flatbread.  And the long grass-like stems themselves are fibrous and strong – perfect for weaving in to baskets or plaiting for a little bush bracelet.

The banksia tree has enormous flowers and equally big seed heads that are packed full of natural oils.  Fred explained that one of these seed heads, pre-heated in a fire, could be carried in your lamandra basket to another camp to start the next fire.  Useful in times without matches and when there are no handy boy scouts to rub together.

He had some invaluable tips for testing which bushtucker is safe to eat: usually, anything red is worth avoiding.  But, if the birds are eating red berries, they are probably safe.  You can double check by rubbing a little of the berry juice on the soft skin inside your wrist.  If it doesn’t react, you can try the next test: rubbing a little on the inside of your lip.  Again, if your mouth doesn’t swell or go numb, its probably safe.  On the other hand, you might prefer to be safe rather than sorry and rely on an expert like Fred.

And minutes later, the risks of nature really came home to me.  When we had finished filming, Toby and a friend went off for a swim.  As I arrived to join them, there was the squealing wheels of police cars and officers asking who had called for help.  I could only guess!

Toby and our friend were about 300 metres out in the sea where they had been swept by a rip current.  There was no way that they could get back to the beach and they were getting cold and tired trying to stay afloat in the choppy water.

Four police cars, two paramedic units, two rescue surfers and two helicopters arrived within minutes – plus the local television reporter.  The first surfer to arrive went straight out with his   board to give them help, closely followed by the second with a special rescue board equipped with handgrips and  straps.

One by one, they were brought ashore on the boards with the helicopters’ downdraft blowing them along.  It really had been touch and go – a few minutes more and they would have drowned.  The paramedics stepped in to check vital signs, wrap them in towels and foil survival “space blankets”.  On their shaky thin white legs, they looked like a couple of oven-ready chickens!

All my hard work to promote the Baking Blind adventure went for nothing – they made the national news that night while I languished on the side-lines!  But the relief was enormous.  I’d felt completely useless standing alone on the beach walkway.  A blind person staggering around on the sand would have just distracted the rescue team so I could do nothing but worry and wait.  My lasting thanks to a man from Cumbria who came to talk to me: he could explain what was going on and reassure me that he could still see two heads out in the sea.       It was a desperate feeling to be completely unable to help in anyway