Posts Tagged ‘recipe’

h1

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!

h1

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.

h1

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…

h1

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!

h1

mean / Tube update: Queensway and Bayswater.

February 7, 2012

I have been really irritable lately. On Friday evening we were at Toby’s flat and Christina was cleaning the kitchen and mopping the floor. I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to go “See Toby, this is called ‘mopping’.” A few minutes later I realised that while Toby is indeed messy, there was no call for me to just criticise him out of the blue.

During my cooking of the lasagne on Tuesday, I kept my cool with the very frustrating ingredients and recipe for about 45 minutes before I snapped, started ranting about crushing garlic on Twitter and went for a cigarette. Now, although I can be somewhat impetuous, I know that I dislike cooking and I also know that I am not experienced and so things are likely to be frustrating – I should have had a bit more patience than that.

Then at the weekend, we went out to Soho for Christina’s birthday. We had a lovely meal at Ping Pong, but afterwards we were trekking through the snow for an hour trying to find our next venue. I was cold and wet, people were throwing snowballs in the streets and I got hit twice (which I think was really uncalled for, since I had not done anything to anyone), we lost half of our party, went into a random club which was full of people – and only 10 minutes later, just after I had put my bag down and taken my soaking coat off,  everyone decided that we were going to leave again and go somewhere else. But first everyone went to get cash. This was the breaking point for me and I told Toby that I could no longer handle all of this and wanted to just go home. With the snow, the crowds of people stranded in central London also trying to get home, and the tube stations and tube lines shutting down one by one, we had to walk in the snow, slush and crowds for 45 minutes before finally getting to Temple where we caught the District Line train back to Earls Court. We left Ping Pong at 9:30; we got back to my flat at midnight. I was thoroughly unimpressed.

And yet, I felt guilty. Although even writing this and reliving it as I do so, I feel justified in just wanting to get out of the situation and get home, I also feel mean for leaving Christina’s birthday early. I didn’t want to, but I also just couldn’t handle being out and cold and wet, wandering aimlessly and having snow thrown at me, and not being able to go home. But on balance, I had helped make her birthday cake (I rescued ganache, using the power of the internet!):

…wrote her card, was out last night for the restaurant-portion of the evening, and saw her again the following morning, so I had made an effort for her and things were all fine. But still, I don’t know why but lately I just feel like I am irritable to people and not as nice as I could be. I had a meltdown on Sunday with Toby – I felt trapped in by the snow, powerless to accomplish anything useful, and spiralling into depression and feeling utterly useless. After much understanding from him, I saw that I was being too hard on myself. Well, what’s new?

Following the emotional surgery, I uncovered that a lot of my frustration is to do with work. I will not say much more about this because I feel it would be unprofessional (and you never know who might be reading), but suffice to say that it’s called ‘work’ for a reason. Toby suggested that one thing I could do is make sure I take a proper lunch break and get out of the office, have some fresh air and a walk. So I have started doing this in earnest: and on Monday, I had a walk (trying not to fall over in the slush) and managed to add another two tube stations to my list: Queensway and Bayswater (after my initial failure when I walked to Paddington).

I worked out that I should also be able to walk to Lancaster Gate, Latimer Road and Royal Oak, so watch this space! I am hoping that not only will I get some additional exercise (and pictures!), but it will improve my mood (both daily and in the longer term). Fingers crossed 🙂

h1

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.

h1

Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.