Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Girl Called @MsJackMonroe - A Working Chef's Opinion ... (She's Damn Good) ...

If you're into food, or politics, or both, you can't have failed to notice Jack Monroe.

She's a writer, journalist, chef and food poverty campaigner (for Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group) in the UK who has gained a big profile for, initially, her ultra-cheap recipes, followed by her media appearances campaigning on various social issues, and more recently her stern defence of criticisms from those who try to shoot her down.

She was forced to leave her employment with the Fire Service as their inflexible working arrangements meant it became rather difficult to care for her child. On benefits, she did what many people suggest those on very low incomes should do - she became very crafty in the kitchen. I mean, *really* clever.

Nowadays she's not so poor. Her media career (with The Guardian and The Independant, among others) has blossomed, she has 30,000+ followers on Twitter and she remains resolutely grounded. But recently, various critics have been taking shots at her, mainly from publications on the Right Wing of politics - after all, "who does this Left Wing, Tattooed Lesbian Single Mother Amateur Chef think she is?" It seems there are those commentators who just can't see past her inkwork, her sexual preference or her politics.

Who is she? I'll tell you. She's a well educated and articulate person who is fighting various social injustices, by stating her strong political views in a convincing fashion. And unlike many, she's been there and lived it (and she would have bought the t-shirt if she had any spare money.)

Oh, and she's a damn clever cook. I was asked recently if I'd heard of her ('Of course') and if she was actually any good as a chef ('Yup, damn good'). So here's one of her simple, cheap recipes, for an excellent veggie curry, with a few comments from myself, afterwards.

The Sainsburys tinned Veg Curry she used as inspiration - oh, man, do people really pay money for that? It looked like the worst kind of baby food. With her recipe, Jack's first thought - to dispose of most of those ingredients - is bang on. Who can taste 35 ingredients? Keep it simple.

Out in February
I might have pre-soaked the lentils, I can't see whether she did or not. With some brands, though, you don't need to. Tinned potatoes? Nothing wrong with them at all, a very cheap and useful store cupboard ingredient, and a real lifesaver on occasions. Using own-brand pre-cooked frozen veg? Why not. Very cheap, and who knows? I'd not worry about the mustard, though, personally I don't think the flavour would come through anyway, although to be honest she only used about 4p worth.

The dish that Jack cooked probably cost less than the tinned version, was far more nutritious, much bigger (would have served 3, easily), and way tastier. And at a guess I reckon it probably took between 8 and 12 minutes. That's pretty much a win all round.

But what I like about Jack Monroe is her instincts. She has a natural 'feel' for food, an intuition for quantities and method, a smartness for what will work and what wont (probably honed sharp after a long time having to get it right). She remains totally unpretentious and enthusiastic about sticking to her culinary principles despite her change in circumstances.

Her food is simple, cheap, tasty and very easy. Often the best food is.

You can follow Jack at @MsJackMonroe on Twitter and her site is at agirlcalledjack.com.