Archive for the ‘cookery’ Category

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cookery: egg fried rice + veggies

November 1, 2012

Tonight Toby has been at a macarons class run by Edd Kimber, so I have been left to my own devices. I really couldn’t be bothered to go out, nor could I be bothered to spend any money when we have perfectly good things in the fridge and cupboard, so I decided to dive in and cook something. After typing the ingredients I had at my fingertips into Google, it suggested I might like to attempt some sort of rice and vegetable dish. So egg fried rice it was! I used this recipe, and also added some baby corn and sliced mushrooms to the mix. I am not sure what kind of rice I was supposed to use, but as the only thing we had was basmati, I ended up cooking that, letting it cool in a sieve, and then frying it – it seemed to work fine!  The most impressive thing was the egg – I was sceptical that after beating it with a fork, puddling it into the centre of a ring of vegetables and rice, and waiting a minute before stirring it all in would work – but it did!

From start to finish, the whole thing (preparation – both mentally, and of the food) took about 40 minutes or so, which was fairly pleasing as it was a proper meal constructed from scratch! And aside from a couple of crispy bits of egg and rice (perhaps I could have stirred even more, but I erroneously chose to use a frying pan and not a wok, so I had to be conscious of not slopping half of the food onto the hob), it was pretty tasty! Tomorrow, Toby is giving a lecture at UWE and so I’ll come home late from my Italian class and have to cook something. Originally, I was going to treat myself to an easy ready-meal, but emboldened by tonight’s success I’m going to make something very similar to what I made at the beginning of the year – but instead of chicken, I’ll use bacon and there won’t be any roast potatoes (but maybe roast parsnips… we’ll see how energetic I am at 10pm!). I have this aspiration to be someone who can work full-time and yet manage to do all of the cleaning and all of the cooking; I am not sure why I want to push myself so much because it’s not necessary, but I think that proving to myself that I can do it all, even just in theory or for a short amount of time, would feel good. So I’m not going to give up on this cooking thing, and I may one day achieve a state of domestic bliss! 🙂

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Cooking in 2012 – July: Brazilian pork and rice.

July 28, 2012

I must confess that I nearly gave up on my cooking project this month. As July ticked by, I thought “oh, I really can’t be bothered to do this cooking thing anymore. I genuinely hate it, I can’t think of what to cook, so why put myself through it for another 6 months?” Even typing that sentence, the words resonate with me to the extent that I will probably have the same inner monologue for the remaining 5 months.  Luckily, I am fairly stubborn so I’ll probably make it through the rest of the year just to avoid the guilt of not fulfilling a goal I set for myself. Plus it does make me feel more self-sufficient and provider-y. Nevertheless… roll on 2013!

Anyway, the conundrum of what to make this month was finally solved last week when I was in Peterborough with Toby’s parents, who had the Times weekend edition. One of the supplements had a couple of interesting articles – one was about a diet (I don’t believe in diets unless they are sensible enough that they could become a lasting fixture of everyday life – in which case, they probably don’t count as a “diet”. But I digress.) that claimed to boost one’s energy at the same time as helping to shed the pounds. The other was about Brazilian food being “the food of the summer”. There were 6 recipes (plus a couple of cocktails) that all seemed to be pretty appetising – I ended up taking the whole supplement back to London with me, and this weekend I finally decided to bite the bullet for July’s meal and make some marinaded BBQ pork and rice.  Or, as the Times called them, “Brazilian fried biro biro rice” and “Pork tenderloin on a churrasco”. I presume that a “churrasco” is a barbecue; I’ve not the foggiest what “biro biro” refers to (perhaps the crispy shallots?). But anyways, here are the recipes:

I did a few things differently – we altered the measurements, nearly halving everything because I was only cooking for Toby and myself. I didn’t use parsley because I’m not a big fan; I didn’t make the crispy shallots because it sounded like too much effort and I was using the rice as a side rather than a main in its own right; instead of pork tenderloin, I used pork medallions, which meant that I didn’t have to butterfly them (conveniently enough, as I don’t know what that involves). I used white wine vinegar instead of red wine vinegar, and paprika instead of dried red pepper flakes. We didn’t have a barbecue available, so we fried the pork medallions on a gas hob instead.

I suppose it is proof of my slow but acknowledgeable growth in cooking that I was able to take a fair amount of both recipes in my stride. Things that I didn’t know and have now learned include:

  • Pork is cooked when the meat is the same colour all the way through. You don’t want any pink in the meat; unlike a steak, ‘rare pork’ isn’t a thing.
  • The reason why one is supposed to wash rice before cooking it is apparently it makes it less starchy, and thus clings together in the pan a bit less.
  • Washing spring onions is quite an involved job, because mud and earth can hide quite deep down in the stalks.  If, like me, you are impatient, wash the onions quite roughly and thoroughly, and then if there is still residual mud, just cut the damn stalks off too. You’re still left with plenty of decent onion.
  • When frying, the definition of “enough oil” is so that the bottom of the pan is coated in oil.

In the picture above, the last tiny bit of the recipe has been missed off by my camera, so it basically says: melt some parmesan on top of the marinaded pork just as it’s finishing cooking. Then, when you serve it, spritz some lime on it – the lime actually adds a really summery feel to the whole dish. Here is the rice and pork as it was cooking, followed by the finished product:

I was quite pleased with the exotic, yet rough-and-ready aspect of the dish. I also liked that the burnished taste of the marinaded pork added something to the rice as we ate. It was pretty yummy!  I guess that I admit that I am getting better at cooking, and in that sense I am fulfilling the goal of this whole project. My confidence is growing in the kitchen – although Toby still offers me help, support and a sense of urgency as and when required! Next month is Jack and Katie’s engagement party, and we are expected to “bring a plate” (sadly, this means bringing a plate which has food on it for guests to share – I found it odd that one might randomly bring a plate to a party, until Toby explained the concept to me.  I have only hitherto been familiar with bringing a bottle. Perhaps this says more about the kinds of parties I have previously frequented!) – so if I’m smart, I will help out during the preparation of this dish and that will be August done. Let’s see what happens!

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Cooking in 2012 – June: Chocolate crackle cookies

June 10, 2012

During a week off in Bristol and Peterborough, I failed in my attempt to make millionaire flapjacks. And my failure mainly resides in the fact that I let Toby do everything while I did a crossword. But today, we successfully baked some chocolate crackle cookies, courtesy of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood’s Great British Bake-off Cookbook:

Here is the recipe, which we followed more or less to the letter:

Pretty foolproof, even for me! Measuring everything accurately with a digital scale, and stirring the various mixtures (smooshing the lumpy bits where necessary to get an even, smooth texture) was the key. This is how the cookies are supposed to look:

And this is how ours turned out:

Simples! And totally delicious – I am bringing some into work tomorrow to impress my colleagues, and Toby is doing the same. It was my first time making something that wasn’t a main meal, and it was quite fun.

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Cooking in 2012 – May: Chicken satay stir fry

May 21, 2012

Yesterday after a wonderful walk around Holland Park, Toby and I were stuck as to what to cook for dinner. Wandering around Tesco on Kensington High Street and picking up items for the weekly shop, we hit upon the idea of something simple and quick, involving chicken and satay sauce. And thus, this month’s chicken satay stir fry was born.

It was good revision for me in slicing onions (1), carrots (1) and peppers (1, red) into fine, fine slivers, and then it allowed me to use the wok that has been living in my kitchen cupboard for the first time. Basically, once you’ve cut your vegetables into thin slices, and you’ve sliced your chicken breasts (2, for two of us) into thin strips, you put the heat on your hob to maximum, put the wok on top, add a slug of cooking oil, and add the chicken. Have a spatula at the ready (and avoid the spitting oil – although it wasn’t too bad when I did it) because you need to stir, stir, stir!  Everything happens hot and fast in a stir fry (that’s why you need all your ingredients to be thin) – stir the chicken, ensuring that both sides get a chance at touching the wok and thus cooking. Once there’s no more pink, raw-looking parts on the chicken and all of it looks white, then add the rest of your ingredients. Stir stir stir! (This recipe is good for your arm muscles, but incredibly annoying if your hob is at shoulder-height, like mine.) After a few minutes, add a whole jar of satay sauce (i.e. 500g) and keep stirring. Eventually, once all of your ingredients are nicely coated, you can relax with the stirring and turn the heat down a bit, to keep things bubbling along.  Stir the whole mixture from time to time.

We also had some rice, but we just used microwaveable egg-fried rice – 1 sachet of Uncle Ben’s per person. This takes 2 minutes in the microwave, and I love it for that very reason. Once your stir fry has been bubbling along for about 10 minutes, it should be ready – taste and check! Then dump everything on your plate, and you should have something that looks as unappetising as this:

yes, I have new dinner plates!

Unappetising, but yummy! Toby loves satay sauce, but obviously you can use whatever sauce or flavouring you want. I liked this meal because it was easy, I got to practise my ingredient-preparing skills, including prep time the whole thing was done in about 30-40 minutes, and it made plenty of food!  I couldn’t actually finish all of mine (there was enough for both of us to have two portions), but if you’re hungry then this should do you. Plus you get an arm workout along the way. Enjoy!

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Cooking in 2012 – April: Cordon Bleu Burgers.

April 12, 2012

See, I caught up! I spent today’s day off relaxing at home, preparing for a possible telephone interview that never happened (onto the next!), watching movies and doing lots of cleaning. Suffice to say, my attention span is too short to be content with being a housewife – I still found myself getting bored. It was nice to have a rest though, and feeling boosted by my omelette cooking experience (quick! largely stress-free! yummy!), I was ready to cook Toby a meal after his day at work. So I scoured the internet (i.e. googled “30 minute meals”) to find something suitable – and thanks to Rachael Ray, I did! Chicken cordon bleu burgers.

The recipe and the ingredients are all there, so you know what I did. I did have to make a couple of adjustments, however:

  • We weren’t able to find chicken mince in the supermarket, so I used pork instead. I am not sure what makes the burgers “cordon bleu”, but I have retained that in the title – otherwise they’re just burgers, right?
  • I used 1 pound of pork, rather than 2 – because there was two of us rather than 4. We still made 4 burgers out of 1 pound of meat, and I thus presume that the measurements suggested in the recipe are intended for giants. Rachael Ray is clearly a feeder.
  • I used British bacon, because we are in the UK and not Canada.
  • I used a paprika and red pepper mix, which gave the burgers a really nice kick, so I didn’t feel the need for all of the other seasoning that the recipe suggests.
  • I chopped half an onion instead of a shallot, and I used cheddar that I already had in the fridge, rather than buying Swiss cheese.
  • Instead of mixing mustard with regular mayonnaise, I bought a squeezy bottle of garlic mayo which complimented the burgers perfectly!
  • I didn’t bother with tarragon, and I try and avoid tomatoes where possible so I didn’t use that either.

But other than that, more or less the same! And very easy. This is how they turned out:

Nom nom nom. (Yes, I have finally joined the Instagram craze – just in time for that pesky Facebook takeover!)  I am scared to get ahead of myself, but I must confess that I didn’t curse or lose my patience or do anything blindingly stupid during the cooking of this meal – perhaps I am starting to improve at cooking? I rather enjoyed the experience this time. Toby taught me how to chop an onion sensibly, and how to fry burger patties without splashing oil everywhere, so I have learned those skills too. Apparently he is similarly buoyed by my recent successes, because he has asked me if I want to try baking something on Sunday. I have tentatively said yes… what is happening to me? Could I finally be embracing the art of cuisine?!?!?!?! Surely not! Watch this space…

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Cooking in 2012 – March: Omelette.

April 2, 2012

I know, I know, so technically it is April. But after the traumatic making of the lasagne in February, I needed a great deal of recovery time! And I will attempt to catch up and do another dish this month to bring me back on track.

I must first and foremost give thanks to Starbucks (mi amor cafeinado!) for providing me with the app that made the omelette possible: How to Cook Everything. Since I cannot cook anything (by this point you should be well aware that I am not exaggerating), when I saw this app available as the free download of the week instore, I had to get it. You search for what you want to make, it comes up with a list of ingredients you need, a step-by-step recipe, and away you go!

Also, after the first couple of meals that I made, I felt that I wanted to do something simpler and more essential (read: quicker). An omelette is a very basic thing – you don’t need many ingredients (eggs, milk, a bit of cooking oil – and then I added chopped ham and pieces of mozzarella), and it takes about 10 minutes. Essentially, what you do is:

  • Break 3 eggs into a bowl,
  • add a tablespoon or so of milk,
  • beat them together with a fork until the mixture looks of a uniform colour and texture (i.e. not blobby),
  • put in a hot frying pan,
  • fry until the side of the omelette facing up at you is no longer wet,
  • throw in your ham and mozzarella,
  • use a fish slice to fold the omelette in half and over the filling you’ve just added,
  • smoosh it down and fry it a bit longer so the ham is warm and the cheese gets melty

– et voilà! Omelette ready. This is what it looked like:

Om nom nom. Add some salad or some bread on the side, and away you go!  Although it wasn’t up to the standard of Balan’s (but then, little is), it was pretty tasty, quick and easy. Just how I like my cooking to be! Plus, it wasn’t too expensive, and I didn’t end up left over with loads of ingredients that would ultimately end up in the bin. Although part of me feels I should learn to make scrambled eggs with the remaining eggs. Seriously, they should sell eggs in packs of 2 or 4 (if not singly). But after February’s severe erosion of my confidence and patience, I am feeling a bit stronger and more satisfied with myself – this was a good success under my belt. Toby helped me, as usual, but this time I did not lose my temper and I don’t think I made him bang his head against the wall!  Progress!

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Cooking in 2012 – February: Lasagne.

February 2, 2012

So this month I made a dish that I have in fact made a couple of times in the past: lasagne. I love it, it’s perfect for the extremely cold weather we’re currently experiencing, and it’s Italian and therefore I should be able to make this in my sleep. I felt confident that I could impress Toby with this one, and be able to do it without any help.

Hah!

I used this recipe as a basis, but it was kinda confusing. My first big stumbling block was “crush the garlic to a paste with the edge of a knife”. Now, I don’t know if you have ever tried this, but it’s fucking difficult. I got irritated (because chopping the vegetables and preparing everything had taken a surprisingly long time), ranted on twitter, had a cigarette, and then just decided to chop the garlic cloves into really small pieces, smoosh them up, and call it sufficient.

My next issue was the completely unclear nature of the recipe. You put the carrot in after everything has been cooking for quite a long time? Huh? And you stir in the oregano practically at the end? Why? Most importantly, it never tells you to take the fried mince off the warm plate and back in a saucepan to mix it with the rest of the ingredients for the meat sauce. It leaves this completely to your imagination. Now, common sense dictates you would eventually reach the conclusion that this is what you have to do (and with Toby’s reassurance, I got there) – but I am far from a confident cook. Even though I have made this recipe before, I don’t ever remember it being so complicated or confusing, and recipes not spelling everything out for me explicitly is A BIG PROBLEM.

But we got there. I cheated and bought some white sauce rather than making it from scratch – this was probably a good move because as it was, we didn’t end up eating the finished lasagne until 9:45pm. Which is late. But it was very very nice – and better than a shop-bought one! I was proud!

With a night’s perspective on the whole matter, I can now ask myself the big question: Was it worth all the money I spent on ingredients, and all the time I spent stressing and preparing and cooking and washing up? I am very hesitant to say “yes”, to be honest. I did learn a lot from the experience, such as:

  • as much as I want to be independent, sometimes it’s vital to ask for help.
  • as time-consuming as cooking and preparing ingredients can be, you can always do chores / errands in the interim while the food is cooking / baking. Which is satisfying.
  • I take after my mother, as the Italian side of me is clearly a fashionista rather than a foodie (though my waistline lately might disagree). Oh well.

I am trying really hard with this cooking thing, and it is a resolution that I made so I will see it through for the whole year. And I sincerely hope that as I gain more experience with cooking, it will be less traumatic. But at this point, I genuinely hate it. I can’t lie – as good as my lasagne tasted, and as convenient as it was that I got two meals’ worth out of it (I finished the leftovers off tonight), I would have much preferred to have bought a ready-made lasagne from a supermarket and warmed it up. Less stress, more time to enjoy my evening with Toby, and less money wasted on ingredients – the remnants of which are now sitting in my fridge until I throw them away in a few days’ time. Perhaps if my circumstances change in the future, I will have more motivation to cook a meal for two more often – and perhaps a better kitchen to cook them in! But for now, at least Toby seemed to enjoy the meal (which is a big plus), and my family sounded impressed when I told them on the phone.

Next, I want to attempt to make Toby a moussaka the way my nan makes it – which is amazing. I don’t expect to live up to her lofty standards, but I will give it a go! Eep.