Posts Tagged ‘nom noms’

Hey good lookin, what ya got cookin?

Hey, thanks for coming back. How’re you doing today? Good, good.

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m going to try to quit the whining and focus on the dining.

A healthy idea, non?

~#~

Today then, I want to talk about food.

Rather, I want to talk about making food. Scratch that, I want to talk about enjoying making food.  The gusto, the passion, the joy and sheer unbridled love of making yummy food.

Whether you’re:

  • cooking up a big bowl of gnocchi and pesto to eat in your pyjamas while watching America’s Next Model (don’t judge me!), or;
  • making a three course menu for a dozen people(*),or;
  • rashly inviting 10 people back to yours after the pub, pausing only to pick-up 3 whole chickens to roast on the way home(**)

– there are few things in life more enjoyable than sharing love, fun and good company through food.

But the sad truth is, so many people are still terrified of cooking. They’re scared of getting things wrong, scared of not living up to the unrealistic ideals of Nigella, Jamie, Gordon and Hugh. Not many of us have a small-holding to raise our pigs on organic apples and feed our sheep rosemary to give them extra flavour.

Most of us are lucky if we can keep a pot of coriander on the kitchen windowsill for a week before it bolts, flowers and hangs listlessly to one side. No amount of running it under the cold-tap will save that meagre “herb garden”.

And please, don’t get me started on Heston – anyone who refers to their kitchen as a ‘lab’ is not a chef and can thus be safely put to one side.

Forget the ideals, forget the aspirations. To start enjoying cooking and being pleased with the dishes you make, you’ve got to first find the fun.

There really are so many ways to enjoy making food, which suits different people in different ways.

I’d like to share with you some of the valuable lessons that I’ve learnt along the way, which may make cooking more fun for you.

Lesson 1: Make mistakes

Broad beans with dill and yogurt taste so much better if you:

  1. Shell the beans
  2. Cook the beans(***)

I’ve baked so many cakes that didn’t rise, or muffins that oozed out of the side, each one resembling a baked effigy of John Merrick. There’s the scones that came out so heavy they had their own gravity and actually bent light.

What this has taught me is that mistakes will always happen, there are many trips to the bin (and then trips to the supermarket) when trying new things. Embrace it.

My top tips with mistakes:

  • Acknowledge that recipes in books are sometimes (often) incorrect.
  • Know that you will mis-read a recipe, more than once.
  • As long as you’re not serving under-cooked chicken or ill-prepared blowfish, most mistakes will be edible, even if not exactly what you were hoping for.
  • When a mistake improves a dish (all recipes are invention and accident) – write it down so you can repeat the same mistake later. This is really handy to do!
  • Laugh at the accidents. It’s just one meal and in the grand scheme of life, is only one of the 89680 meals (if you’re a woman, men will only get to eat 85081 – make ’em count boys!) you’ll eat in the course of a lifetime.

Summary: It’s okay to make mistakes while cooking, it’s part of learning. It’s even better to share your mistakes with friends, and a lot of laughter.

Lesson 2: Make it up

There’s not a soul on earth who is interested in experiencing my coq-au-vodka ever again.

Plaice with cinnamon? No thanks, I’ll pass.

Plum crumble with ground almond topping? Went down very well, thank you. As did baked eggs in ham. Oh, and beans in toast(****).

There’s a lot of fun to be had going off-piste and forging your own culinary path. don’t be afraid to try different flavours and combinations.

Start small though, and build up. Come home from work and look in the fridge. If you’ve got eggs, you can put almost anything in a pan, with some whisked up eggs and make a none-too-shabby go at a Tortilla.

My top tips for seat-of-your-pants cooking:

  • Keep the set of ingredients small. Start with the ‘main’ component of the dish (normally meat, or eggs, or pasta etc.), and only add a few extra flavours or ingredients – see what works.
  • Make notes of ‘new’ things that work. That way you can try them again, and refine them.
  • Make notes of ‘new’ things that don’t work. A warning list!
  • Don’t be afraid. Experimenting starts with knowing that you won’t always succeed. But when you do, and you present a lovely dish that has your friends coo-ing, they’ll be so impressed when you say that you just “made it up”!

Summary: Start small, and have courage.

Lesson 3: Make it interesting

You need to feel a part of what you create (this applies to all crafts, hobbies and interests).

If you are impatient and prone to hysteria, then perfecting delicate French pastries probably isn’t for you. Neither is Sushi for that matter…

Try to find what interests and excites you in a culinary sense, and explore it.

For me, it’s sharing food. I love having friends over for an evening of food and wine. When I was younger, I used to be very pretentious about it – 3 courses, all the place settings, everything ‘just so’. As I’ve got older – while I still have flashes of that pretension – I’m a lot more relaxed. These days my interest is around big plates of well-seasoned and simply cooked dishes. Big oven-to-table dishes that can be placed on the table for everyone to tuck into.

I love cooking dishes like Lamb Tagine, Chilli, Sausages and Parsnips, Roast Chicken, a big leg of Lamb. Dishes that can be prepped in advance, and sit happily in the oven so that I can be a part of the evening, rather than “cook” in the kitchen.

My friend Joe on the other hand, loves making exquisite desserts. He is exceptionally talented at it, and possesses the right blend of precision and patience. We all have our own interests and passions.

Summary: Find what excites you, and explore ways to make it more exciting, to really ignite your passion.

Lesson 4: Make it with love

You can taste a half-hearted dish. The lack of care and effort permeates every morsel. A dish made without love tastes far more bitter than the most burnt offering made by someone who tried really hard.

Passion, care and a desire to try are at the heart of any great home cook (regardless of competence), and it’s this that your family and friends will taste when you share your food with them.

Summary: Give it heart.

~#~

Those are some of the lessons I’ve learnt as I’ve developed and grown as a cook, and I hope that if nothing else, they can supply you with some re-assurance to get into the kitchen and just have fun!

~#~

(*) I have done this and it was one of the funnest evenings of recent years.

(**) I have done this too and it was a whole heap of giggles.

(***) With massive apologies to Kate for making her eat that vile meal, and that the second attempt (which she did not sample) was so much better!

(****) You need a breville Toastie maker, and tenacity.