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Tastspotting: Mike Bell

By May 5, 2016 No Comments

A series of interviews with local foodies (people who have an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of good food). This week the Chronicle caught up with Mike Bell.

“I work at the University of Waikato and have lived in Raglan since 1986. I restarted the Raglan County Chronicle as the Raglan New Chronicle in 1988 and maintained it for about eight years so it is awesome to see the paper still going from strength to strength nearly 30 years later.”

How did you become interested in food and cooking?

My wife gave me a few basic cooking lessons when we first moved in together and once I knew how to fry onions properly there was no looking back. I started by specialising in curries, but quickly broadened my repertoire over the years as I took over more of the cooking responsibilities and the need to respond to three children with widely differing tastes, including one who hated most cooked vegetables and another who became a vegan. There were times when I’d be cooking four different evening meals in true à la carte style.

Who are you inspired by? A foodie relative, a famous chef, a blogger?

No-one in particular. I like skim reading the recipe sections in magazines and browsing the web for ideas, but I hardly ever follow a recipe (unless I’m baking) – it more often depends on what is in the pantry. I’m really impressed by people like Emma Galloway and Aaron Brunet who take food to a completely different level and then write awesome books about it.

What’s your attitude towards food. Do you have a certain eating philosophy i.e. Vegan, Paleo or sugar free.

These days I try to only use whole food ingredients and buy locally when I can. The small number of processed and refined foods I keep in the pantry I try to buy packaged in glass or paper rather than plastic or tin, but it isn’t always easy. I’d sooner buy a nice cut of meat from the butcher than styrofoam trays from the supermarket and use herbs from the garden rather than from packets, but it’s not always practical.

Do you follow recipes or do you wing it most of the time?

When baking or making jams/chunteys/etc I follow recipes pretty closely. The chemistry of baked goods is not something I can easily wing, but for most meals I’ll often just use what is at hand and am okay about substituting and tossing in the flavourings rather than carefully measuring them out. I think that if you’re not heavy handed with seasonings and taste the food as you go along you rarely go wrong.

Do you have many failures in the kitchen?

It’s more often with things like jams and chutneys where I under cook and have to cook again to get them to set properly.

I discovered this year that I’m not great at cooking under pressure for large groups. When the Rugby World Cup games were on and we hosted one of the breakfast games I underestimated how long it would take to scramble a dozen and a half eggs, so ended up slightly over cooking everything else and burnt the ciabatta toast, but it’s pretty unusual that I cook breakfast for a dozen people. I wouldn’t want to cook professionally, particularly in a busy restaurant – I don’t yearn for that sort of thrill.

Do you eat out often. If you do what do you usually go for?

Not that often – maybe 5 to 10 times a year – and more often for breakfast, so I usually go for a big brekkie or eggs benedict. For other meals I look for interesting or unusual taste combinations (like liquorice flavour chicken, chorizo with mussels, etc.)

What is your kitchen tool you could not live without?

My egg slice. It’s a bit bent and pretty ugly, but it’s thin and flexible and the best for getting under things like omelettes and blinis to stop them from sticking and burning. They just don’t make them like that anymore – usually too thick and chunky. I keep looking for a good one, but haven’t found one yet. There have been a couple of occasions I had to rescue my precious egg slice from the rubbish when other members of the household have very kindly attempted to keep my kitchen utensils fresh and modern.

What ingredients would you bring on a deserted island with you – can only choose 3.

Assuming I could harvest fish and coconut on a deserted island then a huge sack of fresh limes or lemons, cumin seed and tumeric would keep me happy until I was rescued.

If you had to go on Masterchef who would you partner up with?

I can’t think of anything that would compel me to go on Masterchef, so moot point.

What’s your go to meal when the cupboards are not well stocked? The something out of nothing meal.

Pasta or rice are always a useful go-to base food, just boil and add whatever else is available. I always have herbs in the garden, spices in the spice rack, bottles/jars of tomato puree, cheese in the fridge, so can usually create something from those.

What do you usually take to a pot luck?

I still often get asked to bring a curry. Usually a chicken curry of some kind – maybe a hot spicy vindaloo or milder, creamy Thai dish, depending on who might be there.

Recipe:

Easy Chicken Quesadillas

This is a quick and easy meal for busy people. Takes about 20 minutes from fridge to plate. This is for four normal portions (2 quesadillas each). Other ways of making this dish include sandwiching the chicken mixture between two tortillas and either baking or pan frying, but I prefer to fold the tortilla in half and bake until the tortilla is a bit crispy to make it easier to pick up and eat.

I usually buy a 15 pack of budget tortillas and use the left overs later in the week to make snack sized pizzas using the rest of the bottle of pasta sauce as a tomato sauce base, topped with whatever vegetables or suitable leftovers are in the fridge, finished with mozzarella cheese.

Ingredients

– 2 chicken breasts (or 3 boneless chicken thighs) [or a can of black beans for a vegan version] – ⅓ to ½ 700ml bottle of tomato pasta sauce
– 2 tsp paprika (smoked if you prefer)
– 1 tsp ground cumin
– 1 red onion
– 1 capsicum (any colour)
– Tablespoon or more (to your own taste) pickled jalapenos (or one sliced fresh jalapeno)
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– Grated cheese (I like a mix of tasty cheddar and mozzarella)
– 8 tortillas (flour or gluten free)

Method

Pre heat oven to 180 degrees celsius.

Slice chicken into thin strips. Slice onions, capsicum and jalapenos thinly.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan. Stir fry chicken along with paprika and cumin until brown all over and reduce to medium heat. Add red onions, capsicum and jalapenos (add chili sauce or fresh chili if you like more heat) and cook for another 2 minutes. Then stir in about 250mls of pasta sauce until hot.

Spread half of each tortilla with the chicken mixture, sprinkle with grated cheese and fold in half.

Place in flat dish or on an oven tray and bake or fan bake at 180 for 5 to 10 minutes (until the tortilla starts to turn brown and is a bit crispy at the edges).

Serve with a fresh salad (and add a blob of sour cream to each quesadilla if want to be a bit more decadent).

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