Sunday Dec 03, 2006

"Crossover" Kedgeree

Apologies again, lots more backlog whejn it comes to cookery blogging - I have a recipe for a nice minimalist Autumn dessert up my sleeve which has yet to be written-up, however I though that a nice Winter breakfast recipe should take priority :-).

Probably my favourite breakfast recipe is a very straightforward one from North of the border; scramble some eggs, dish up, add finely-cut strips of smoked salmon, mix for a minute and grind black pepper over the top to taste. That's so simple it doesn't even count as a recipe, really (other than the two secrets I've inherited regarding scrambled eggs - add a big two-fingered scoop of butter to begin with, and half a small cup of cold milk right about when you think the eggs are done).

However, I was chatting over a few beers last night with a chap I get on well with and who is also a regular at my local , and we got to discussing - now that the Hampshire air has a decided nip to it - what would make the perfect, warming, quick cooked breakfast other than a full fry-up. Unsurprisingly, the subject of Kedgeree came up, and I realised that I could probably make a useful twist to this popular Colonial dish... in particular, I've never been keen on the "serving with hard-boiled eggs" thing.

To make sufficient for one hungry Bachelor who didn't get much dinner the night before and is going to be on his feet all day:

Bang together 1 lightly-heaped tablespoon of coriander, one lightly-heaped tablespoon of cumin and a sprinkling of turmeric (this mostly for colour) in a pestle and mortar (I have one of these now, although this is the first time I've blogged about it)

Start with the washing and boiling processes for making Trivial Egg Fried Rice; when you put the rice on to boil, add the spices.

While the rice does its thing, get some smoked peppered mackerel (Tesco do a nice 2-fish pack), and flake the flesh off the skins with a fork. Heat your big rice-frying pan up, and damage some parsley by giving it a very brief bang in the pestle and mortar, just to make sure the flavour will come out properly. We want this to be a nice rich breakfast, so whisk 3 reasonable-sized eggs up in a measuring jar.

When the rice has done its 10-minute simmering, transfer to the heated rice pan and add the mackerel. stir up vigorously until almost all the remaining water has boiled off, then pour the eggs in and stir until everything has cooked through.

Transfer to plate, season with smoked paprika and Tabasco to taste. Bingo, egg fried Kedgeree.

Coda:

While Kedgeree is a classic breakfast dish for Brits who know about the days of Empire, probably the best classic American breakfasts (or "breakfust", as they choose to deliberately mis-spell it for reasons probably lost in the mists of time) in California can be found at the Peninsula Fountain in Palo Alto. While they go so far as to bake their own (delicious, and available in three varieties) bread on the premises, which is more hardcore than I'm prepared to go right now, they also do some awesome dishes which will set you up properly for a hard day's work. Their Cajun Scramble is probably my favourite; now that I have a decent recipe for corned beef hash and a bunch of spices I don't flinch at wielding, I may well have a go at reproducing it. Findings will be posted later...

Wednesday Nov 29, 2006

Digga ding ding ding ding ding...

I've been watching Heston Blumenthal's TV series "In search of perfection" (BBC2, Tuesdays, 20:00 or 20:30, it varies), and there's a couple of tricks I think he's actually still missing.

The episode the week before last, on steak and salad, I found particularly excellent - as well as going to considerable lengths to find the perfect cut of beef, Blumenthal's method of cooking it (brown with gas torch and then put in a 50 degree oven to cook for 24 hours) is both simple, and from a Physics perspective, blindingly obvious. Yet, this is not the way beef is typically cooked. I'll probably give it a go :-).

Last week's programme, on perfect fish and chips, was excellent from the perspective of finding the perfect fish (Cornish turbot) and the batter techniques (borrowing from Japanese tempura), however he still peels the potatoes he uses for his chips. I'm surprised he hasn't noticed that the most flavoursome part of a potato is the skin. Fish and chip shop proprietors "in the know" wash their spuds and put them straight in the chipper rather than peeling them.

This week's, on pizza, concentrated (and justly so) on the tomatoes. In my view, it's the tomatoes that really define an excellent pizza. I've eaten in the Neapolitan restaurant he visited, and I must say that I thought it was outclassed by Gino's in Vico Equense, which is on the mountain road between Naples and Sorrento; the pizzas there are rectangular and you buy them by the unit length :-). The bases at Gino's aren't just unusual in their shape, though; the texture is also very different, and is probably best characterised as "Victoria sponge cake but a bit firmer". They are about 4mm thick and actually melt-in-the-mouth, very different to either the typical thin and slightly-crisp traditional Italian base or the more doughy, thicker American base. It would have been cool if Blumenthal had managed to replicate this instead.

His idea of using a well-heated heavy iron pan as the object to cook your pizza on, thus getting your oven hot enough to cook the pizza quickly, is a neat one.

Friday Jun 09, 2006

Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 8: The Domestic Teppan?

While I'm more than happy with my wok, I've always looked with considerable admiration on (and enjoyed the food prepared by) Oriental cooks who manage to do the whole slice-and-dice-and-fry thing of a huge range of ingredients on a Teppan. A good teppan-fried yaki udon is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest dishes known to Man.

So, I figured I'd see what I could do in terms of preparing and cooking on a Teppan at home.

I own a reasonable gas-fired barbecue; this has a hexagonally-pierced plate of cast iron below which are a bunch of stones intended to replicate the reflux behaviour of charcoal briquettes, and also a flat cast-iron plate which sits next to it, on which folk are supposed to cook veg or other things which do not require reflux of meat juices.

A proper Teppan is a flat (or very slightly concave) cast iron or stainless steel plate.

So, I put two and two together.

I picked up the flat cast iron plate from my barbecue, brought it into my kitchen, and planted it down on my hob over the two largest gas burners (the plate being maybe 1 by 2 feet in size). I then went to Tesco, and bought a selection of veg and a pre-cooked seafood cocktail of prawns, mussels and calamari.

I finely chopped the veg in the Magimix (noting with particular appreciation the amount of mayhem it can unleash on carrots when the julienne slicing blade is fitted), and cranked the intensity of the burners underneath the homebrew Teppan up to maximum. I prefer my veg crunchy, so the seafood went on first for maybe 3 minutes - shortly to be followed by a pack of Amoy Singapore Noodles (which I had found in Tesco by accident - suffice to say, I happen to be particularly fond of Singapore noodles). This got chopped, stirred, and generally thrown around with wild abandon until it was time to chuck the veg on. A good splash of Soy and Mirin got thrown on for good measure, too.

A few minutes of fun with spatulas later, and dinner was done. For once, it came out very well first time, although I suspect the simplicitly of the "non-recipe" and the ready availability of many of the ingredients in a ready-prepped state saved my bacon. For the record, I usually manage to get things to taste good the second time I try to make them :-).

About the only problem I had was that a proper Teppan is large, and the plate from my barbecue was perhaps a bit small for the purpose; I did have quite a bit of trouble with "losing food over the edge".

Actually, divvying up was also a bit of a hassle; tipping a wok-ful of dinner onto a plate is a lot easier than picking piles of dinner up off a Teppan with spatulas and dumping them on the plate that way.

It might be time to invest in a medium sheet of stainless steel and some very thick gloves...

Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 7: Dawn of the Magimix

After deciding to start experimenting moderately seriously with cookery, I figured - maybe foolhardily - that I might not actually be getting too bad at it; although, as you've seen, I do cheat a lot.

So, a while back (OK, major food blogging latency) I went a little bit mad and treated myself to a Magimix 3100 Compact.

I've had some major fun with it, so far - while it comes with an thoroughly eyebrow-raising recipe book which I really should take a more serious look at, I think it's fair to say that I've not made anything which remotely resembles anything in the book yet :-). Probably, other than the recipe below, the main thing it will do for me is to increase both the range and arbitrariness of my soups - I don't think I'm quite ready to start baking yet, for instance.

FWIW, here's the (honest) story of the day I bought it...

After lugging the thing home - a Magimix is NOT light - I took an inventory of the contents of the (suitcase-sized) box and decided to put it through some of its paces. I started by fitting the grating disc, and grabbed the most obvious gratable substance out of the fridge that I had to hand. As I'm a cheese-fiend almost of the magnitude of Wallace, the substance in question was a lump of Cathedral City cheddar.

I found myself, after maybe 8 seconds of testing, with a bowl partly full of remarkably efficiently-grated fairly serious cheddar.

Now what?

There's only one good thing I could immediately think of when it came to cooking with grated cheese, and that was a Swiss Roesti. Granted, such things are supposed to be cooked with Gruyere, but I figured it might work reasonably well with a serious cheddar.

I chucked some baby new potatoes I had going spare (washed, skins still on to keep the best of the flavour) into the Magimix and grated them too. Again, 8 seconds later, the main bowl had a big bunch of well-grated potato in it. I mixed the potato and the cheese up.

I peeled a big bunch of garlic, sliced it as finely as I could with the Bloody Big Knife, put some tinfoil in my grill pan, mixed everything up some more and spread it out on the pan, and then thought "OK, so I've got a serious proto-Roesti here, I just need to bake it well. What can I think of which will go well with it?"

It took maybe an hour for the lightbulb to go on over my head. When it did, I went straight off to Tesco's (again).

I came back with a pack of a couple of rib-eye steaks and a loaf of regular sliced white bread. Oh, and some Chablis to be consumed with dinner, and some beer to be consumed while cooking :-).

I put a couple of slices of bread in my toaster and toasted them until they were on the dark side of golden brown. I then tore the slices up, put the results in the Magimix's mini-bowl, and used the small knife to obliterate them into coarse breadcumbs.

I then took one of the steaks, trimmed the excess fat off it with the Bloody Great Knife, and cut it coarsely into cubes. I put the cubes in the big bowl of the Magimix, and used the main knife to obliterate them. Seriously, it's necessary to get the meat down to the consistency of warm plasticene for the purposes of what I'm up to, here.

(note to self - a Magimix would be awesome for doing Steak Tartare, but I need both very, very serious steak for the purpose and a good recipe in terms of getting the herb balance right... have to look at the recipes linked above)

So, I got to the point of having a small dish full of coarse breadcrumbs and a big bowl containing some raw meat paste. What's next?

Take a big round dinner plate, apply a uniform (as best as you can) layer of breadcrumbs to it.

Press the raw meat paste onto the breadcrumbs by hand, trying to overlap handfuls as best you can to give the overall entity some structural integrity. Keep the meat layer fairly thin if you can, though.

Crank the oven up to maximum heat (about 230 degrees C), put the Roesti in. Cook for 50 minutes.

Wait an appropriate time before doing the mad thing below. This is a good time to have a beer.

Grab your biggest frying pan, add just a little oil, heat the thing up until the oil is smoking.

Slide the meat-and-breadcrumb composite off the plate into the frying pan. Sprinkle the rest of the breadcrumbs on to the top of the meat, press them hard onto the top surface of the meat with a wooden or plastic spatula, making sure the top surface is well covered.

Fry for 3 minutes.

Flip the whole composite over. If things break up, rescue and flip fragments with a (wooden) spatula as best you can.

Fry for 3 more minutes.

Transfer to your plate, add an appropriate portion of suitably-cooked Roesti on the side. Season with freshly-ground black pepper and freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Pour a big glass of dry white wine to drink with it.

If you haven't made the initial commitment of preparing a Roesti, the resulting steak dish actually works better with a light salad drizzled with sesame oil, and / or a potato salad comprising skin-on baby new potatoes with a sesame oil and whole-grain mustard sauce.

Granted, what you get is not Wiener Schnitzel. I'm a big fan of Wiener Schnitzel and have had (probably) the definitive Wiener Schnitzel at Figlmueller in Vienna after presenting at RSA Europe last year, so I know for sure just how good Wiener Schnitzel can get :-).

However, as "Englischer Ledigmaenner Schnitzel", what I got was surprisingly good :-).

Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 6: Arbitrary Soup

As a bachelor and would-be cook, a problem I always face is that of leftover ingredients; especially veg. As PJ put it, "everything seems to come in Economy SIze, Family Size or Holy Roman Empire Size", and that includes the packs of veg I get from Tesco's - there's just too much in there to chuck into a meal for one, unless I want to be eating the same dish for 3 days running (which I do with Green Chicken Curry - funnily enough, it tastes best the day after I cook it, so there has to be a significant marinading effect involved).

I hate throwing food away, so I find a much better solution to be to chuck everything left over into a soup a couple of days before its "Best Before" date comes up. After munching myself stupid on a serious curry for a couple of days (accompanied with Generic Fried Rice cooked daily), it probably does my metabolism good to wind down with a nice light soup for a day or two, anyway :-).

I have two approaches for soups, one of which can be considered cheating while the other can be considered really cheating. I either put a thin but flavoursome broth together from stock concentrates (1 pint of water, 2 vegetable stock cubes, either 1 or 2 sachets of miso paste to taste) and chuck stuff into it, or crack a tin of an appropriate "base" soup and chuck stuff into that.

If you're in "really cheating" mode, Tesco own-brand chicken and sweetcorn soup is a great base to begin with. Add soy and chillis (or chilli soy, if you have a bottle of Yee Kum Kee's finest to hand) and peppers towards the end of heating to turn this stuff into a basic-but-good hot and savoury soup - especially if you also coarsely chop a few spring onions on the bias and mix them in once the soup is heated up and has been poured into bowls. Crunchy :-).

You can also go so far as to dilute this soup a bit (no more than 5% by volume with water) and add a few straight-to-wok thread noodles to this mix if you want to (don't bother cooking them, the hot soup will do that for you), and / or some finely-chopped white cabbage. If you want to go down the cabbage route, adding a good splash of Mirin helps, too.

Much the same goes for the "slightly less cheating" soup, as based on stock cubes, miso and (by my preference, anyway) Mirin. Even noodles can work in there, provided they're finer in cross-section than Udon. A trick I figured out, as distinct from what I do with curry, is to slice the veg more finely - particularly, the baby corn works better if it gets sliced across the axis rather than along it.

Heat the stock up until it just starts to steam, chuck all the rest of the ingredients in, and then turn the heat down a little bit and cook for maybe 4 minutes so the veg stays crispy. After that, dish up and you're done. Put coarsely-chopped spring onions on top, add maybe a little parsley, and you have a nice light meal. If you're including noodles, and if they are of the "straight to wok" variety, just chuck them in at the end of cooking - the soup will cook them through in a couple of minutes when everything is off the heat.

A final word - when it comes to soups and what you put in them, wield a light hand with the chillis. I overdid it the first time, and it hurt!

Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 5: Thai Green Chicken Curry

It's been ages since I've written-up any cookery experiments here. This doesn't mean I've stopped experimenting with cooking, I've just been up past my eyes in customer-facing projects and stuff related to other milieus, including a bunch of radical security research which I'm not prepared to blog here quite yet - specifically, because I need to be sure I've not missed something incredibly obvious, and if I haven't, then the patents need to be filed first :-).

Nonetheless...

Having done a bunch of Japanese (or "Occidental pseudo-Japanese with pretensions" ) cooking courtesy of the Wagamama cookbook and my own imagination, I decided to branch out a little.

I really love Thai Green Chicken Curry. Also, having enjoyed eating fairly regularly in The Wrestlers in Cambridge for years (the landlord married a Thai lass, and she does most of the cooking) I suspect - just a little bit - that I've picked up one or two tricks. Nam Pla Prik, as discussed in Part 4, is one of them :-).

Anyway, on to the curry. This will do for either a smallish dinner party, or up to three days for a hungry bachelor...

Roughly slice a couple of chicken breasts, having trimmed the fat off first. You don't need to get particularly large quantities of chicken, a little meat goes a long way in these recipes. Put the pieces on a big plate, so they don't stick together.

Chop a couple of good-sized peppers up fairly finely - I tend to go for one red, one green.

Slice a generous handful of baby corn once lengthwise, grab a handful of mangetout.

Peel (via whichever mechanism you choose - I got an excellent tip from Alec which involves a flexible plastic tube...) and finely chop as many cloves of garlic as you see fit. I like garlic, so I tend to put 5 or 6 cloves in.

Also, peel (Bloody Big Knife being needed here) a piece of ginger root about the size of your thumb plus 25%, and finely slice.

Grab some bamboo shoots - Amoy do some very good ones, tinned. Pop a can of these, and wash them out.

I'm a big fan of shiitake mushrooms, so a bunch of these get fairly coarsely chopped too.

Grab some beanshoots too - a good fistful. Tesco do them bagged and fresh, and they work just fine.

I'm still pretty new to cooking, so as I'm looking at a plethora of ingredients here, I'd like to mention how on Earth I manage to marshal them all. Tesco sell little Tupperware-ish dishes - square plastic containers about 5 inches on a side, with lids which I never use - for 35 pence each. I really don't think I could do without them, and they are wonderful for lining ingredients up. I have 8 of them, just to be on the safe side, and stack each of them full of freshly-prepped and sliced ingredients before bringing them to within easy arm's reach of my hob just before I crank the burners up :-).

Oil your wok, and (hey, you know the drill now) whack it on a cranked-up burner until the oil starts smoking. Be sure to start your extractor fan and / or open your kitchen windows before the next bit, or you'll find your home's fire alarms going off.

The chicken goes in first. Stir it up vigorously, searing it off until all the sides of all the meat are blanched white.

Add a little (less than .25 pint) of water.

Chuck the garlic and ginger in.

Bring everything to the boil; let it roll on the boil for maybe a minute, stirring hard so things don't stick.

Here's where I really cheat horribly, again. Tesco do an excellent Thai curry paste range, called "Thai Taste". Pop a pot of the green curry variety from this range, and pile a couple or three of very heaped tablespoonfuls in. The stuff will keep in the fridge for a month. I've since bought sufficient kit to produce my own pastes (another entry on my experiments will happen here another time), but this stuff does nicely.

Let everything heat up and roll for a couple of minutes, again, while stirring madly.

Add a whole big can of coconut milk. Believe me, when it comes to cooking Thai curries, coconut milk is the one ingredient you cannot skimp on - I've tried, and what comes out is Not Good. My local Tesco stocks "Bart" coconut milk, and that does very nicely.

This is a good time at which to start cooking your Generic Fried Rice, to go with the curry.

Turn the heat on the curry down to a gentle simmer. Pay attention to the rice for a few minutes, until you have the lid on the rice pan with the heat down. The curry will happily survive the experience.

Chuck the rest of the veg in the curry at intervals of a couple of minutes, starting with the corn, following with the beanshoots, the peppers next, the mangetout next, mushrooms after that, and ending with the beansprouts as the rice cooks. If the beansprouts are in the mix on the burner for more than 2 minutes, you've got it wrong; in fact, it's perfectly reasonable to throw the raw beanshoots on the top when you divvy up onto the plate(s).

Turn the heat off under the curry. Do "the egg thing" with the Generic Fried Rice and finish it off.

Divvy everything up.

Add Nam Pla Prik as a table condiment, to taste.

The choice of what to serve drinks-wise with this is fairly moot. A dry white wine is conventional, but as a tip of the hat to The Wrestlers, I tend to go with a couple of bottles of Old Speckled Hen :-).

Monday Mar 06, 2006

Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 4: Beef Ramen, Dave Style

I cracked this one the other weekend. Usually, it takes me two attempts to come up with something bordering on the delicious; this is the first time I've ever made something close to inedible the first time as a result of excess chillification, so "be careful out there".

To feed one good-sized bachelor:

  • one decent-sized piece of rump steak
  • a good teriyaki marinade
  • a litre of water
  • two vegetable stock cubes
  • two sachets of miso paste
  • one (and only one) reasonable sized medium chilli
  • one sachet of Medium Ramen noodles
  • assorted veg (particularly 4 spring onions, half a red pepper, 1 medium chilli, 5 baby corn and 4 asorted shiitake and oyster mushrooms) - ish
  • further interesting things (1 thumb-sized piece of ginger root and as many cloves of garlic as you favour, all peeled and finely sliced)
24 hours before you're reckoning on cooking, put your steak (fat trimmed off using Bloody Great Knife) on a plate and liberally douse with teriyaki marinade. Don't put it in the fridge; just keep it somewhere reasonably cool and dark.

Be sure to turn the meat about every 8 hours.

(fast forward to cooking time)

Chop your veg and chilli (I invariably leave the seeds in, but that's just me). Open your noodles and free them up from eachother. Arrange everything in various dishes (I favour small pastic Tupperware-style bowls from Tesco, 35p each...) by order of addition; garlic and ginger can go together first, pepper, chilli and corn can go together as they go in second, noodles go third, mushrooms and onions go in last to keep crisp. NB. This is all prep, don't put any of this stuff in your wok yet!

Put your litre of water, stock cubes and Miso paste in your wok. Bring it up to simmering.

Meantime, get your big heavy frying pan - drizzled with a little sunflower oil - up to such a pre-incandescent heat that the oil is smoking.

Chuck your veg and noodles into your stock, leaving a couple of minutes between additions. Stir everything regularly.

Meantime, put your steak in your insanely hot pan, standing well back and potentially wearing goggles. Pour the remainder of your marinade over the top and watch it go mad. Having your extractor hood running and windows open is a really good idea by the time you get to this bit.

Flip the steak after maybe 2.5 minutes. After a further 2.5 minutes, transfer it off the heat to your chopping board.

You'll probably want to turn the gas right down on the wok at this point.

Slice your steak, with a diagonal bias if you can, with your Bloody Great Knife. It should be decidedly rare in the middle.

Pour your combined noodle / veg soup into a suitable bowl for consumption - I admit I cheated and bought a good one from Wagamama.

Put your sliced steak on top. If you're not keen on eating your meat rare, it will slowly cook itself further in the hot soup.

Serve, with sweet chilli sauce as a table condiment.

Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 3: Veg, Stock and Condiments

I'm not hardcore enough (yet...) to go boiling bones and water in a pan for hours to make "proper" stock, so I cheat horribly and use stock cubes and other off-the-shelf concentrates. Kallo vegetable cubes work really well, and I find Knorr chicken cubes to be far too salty.

I similarly find myself lucky enough that my local Tesco stocks Yutaka, Amoy and Blue Dragon products, so I'm able to keep stocked-up on Miso paste, ready-to-wok noodles of various grades, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, sweet chilli and teriyaki sauces, etc as part of my regular shopping.

I also have a cheat up my sleeve in terms of Lee Kum Kee dark chilli soy, as sourced in San Francisco - if things go a little wrong, I've found (with one exception, when I overdid it on raw chillies when putting my first ever beef ramen together) that the addition of something savoury with a chilli kick is to my cooking what forgiveness is to sin. It's as well I like my food spicy.

Yutaka stuff I'm very new to, but the Miso paste serves to add a lovely oriental flavour on top of any other stock base. I typically add it to any Western stock I'm working with. I also have a small bottle of their Mirin, which I have yet to experiment with.

I find Blue Dragon Nam Pla sauce (and wonton soup, which makes a delightful starter) to be thoroughly excellent - if you take a small dish and finely slice finger chillies into it across their section (don't remove the seeds first) before just covering with Nam Pla sauce, you get Nam Pla Prik, which (ideally after a day to marinate) makes the most awesome Thai-style table condiment I know :-).

Amoy deliver the goods well and truly when it comes to tinned bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Be sure to give them a good wash first, though. Their light and dark Soy sauces are also my first choice (others may favour Kikkoman, but this is just my own taste preference).

However, Amoy "straight to wok" noodles, IMHO, vary. Their Ramen noodles are lovely, although I find that when it comes to serious Udon noodles, I'm fussier than I ever thought I'd be. Wagamama's Udon noodles - and ones I've had in restaurants in the Bay Area - have a square cross-section, which is easy to heft with chopsticks and also holds sauce really well, whereas the Amoy Udon noodles have a circular cross-section that doesn't pass muster so well in either department.

Naturally, a good sweet chilli sauce is worth having in the armoury of table condiments. I'm currently working my way through a bottle of "Cottage Specialities" product (very British, but rather good).

Obviously, you also need to get your veg right. Spring onions are Japanese to begin with, so piling them in is a good idea (slice them on an angle, in sections maybe a centimetre long); and I've always been a huge fan of baby corn (slice once lengthwise). You also can (almost) never go wrong with mushrooms, and many supermarkets stock both Shiitake and Oyster varieties. Slice 'em up coarsely.

Basically, bring 'em on; in fact, before now, I've made a rather pleasant soup out of nothing more than stock and veg (but more of that later).

Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 2: Trivial Egg Fried Rice

I figured I'd start with the fundamentals :-).

Funny thing is, I find what I got right here tastes better than any equivalent I've had from a Chinese take-away. I'm not taking pride in my cooking yet, either.

Here's my recipe (adapted a bit from the Wagamama cookbook).

To feed 1 good-sized bachelor, assuming an accompanying main dish of curry, veg, or something else entirely:

  • take 1 small mug of rice - I favour Uncle Ben's long grain
  • rinse in cold water repeatedly to get rid of as much of the starch as possible
  • put the rice in a small saucepan, add 1.33 mugs of water
  • bring to the boil
  • on reaching the boil, put the lid on the pan and turn the heat right down
  • let the pan and its contents do their thing for 10 mins; meantime, add a little sunflower oil to your big heavy frying pan and heat it up to the point where the oil starts smoking (aka "aim for your pan going incandescent"
  • also, while this is afoot, mix up a couple of eggs in a bowl
  • transfer your rice from saucepan to frying pan, keep it moving with your spatula until the water has just about stopped bubbling (ie it's boiled off) - this is also about the point where you should put any other ingredients in, if you're going for veg, prawns, etc with your rice
  • pour your eggs in, move everything around vigorously for a couple of minutes until the rice / egg mix has stiffened uniformly
  • transfer to plate
Enjoy.

Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 1: Introduction, Kit and Principles

So, I'm going to teach myself to cook. This is a pretty tall order, given the huge range of cuisines the world has produced, so which one to begin with?

The decision was made, shortly after New Year, when having lunch at Wagamama Basingstoke, part of my favourite chain of Japanese-style restaurants with locations outside London.

I found that Wagamama had published a cookbook. Better still, that afternoon in Tesco (the UK's largest supermarket chain, for folk outside the UK reading this, and the place I've essentially lived out of for at least 10 years shopping-wise), I found an Oriental cooking set, comprising a wok and spatula, 4 melamine bowls and spoons, 8 chopsticks and a basic cookery book, for 4 pounds 50 on remainder after Christmas.

Game on :-).

PJ O'Rourke, one of my favourite humourists, managed to almost perfectly sum up the spirit of bachelor cookery in his book "The Bachelor Home Companion".

PJ says "if you think of cooking as setting fire to things and making a mess, it's fun". I'd add "playing around with big knives and occasionally obliterating perfectly good pieces of dead flesh in ways which make you think of classic Sci-Fi death rays" to that, but more on the "obliteration" angle later :-).

So, other than ingredients, what do you need to start oriental cooking, and what are the core principles?

Here's the kit I have:

  • regular 4-burner gas hob (much more controllable and intense than electric)
  • wok (the aforementioned absurdly cheap one)
  • small saucepan and lid (for boiing rice)
  • big heavy frying pan (for frying rice post-boiling, and dealing with steaks)
  • spatula
  • chopping board
  • Bloody Great Knife (in my case, a 10" Sabatier)
The Bloody Great Knife is used for everything from chopping and trimming meat and chopping veg to peeling garlic. Don't be fooled by knife vendors who say you need a whole block-full of 6 or more knives; as you'll find out from these postings (eventually...) if you didn't know it already, you need one Bloody Great Knife that you can rely on for almost all purposes, maybe a flexible knife for cutting and boning fish (which I'm not up to yet), and maybe a food processor if you're in a hurry, don't worry so much about attention to detail, or want to specialise in obliteration.

As I don't want to ruin said Bloody Great Knife by sharpening it ham-fistedly, I'm fortunate in that the cooks in the (thoroughly excellent, bless them) local pub where I drink regularly are more than happy to keep my knife sharp for me, provided I bring it in wrapped-up and in a zipped-closed bag. They spend maybe 5 minutes doing their stuff, and return it similarly wrapped and so sharp it can almost cut daylight. You might not be so fortunate, but I hope you are.

So, kitted out, I pulled the contents of the Wagamama cookbook off the page and into my brain, and divined some generalisations and conclusions, which I consider to be "core principles", as well as spotting a couple of recipes to start off with. The core principles are:

  • there's no substiute for heat, except perhaps more heat
  • close interconnecting doors, activate cooker extractor hood and open windows - you're going to be making smoke, and you don't want your smoke detectors going off
  • keep everything moving quickly once you start cooking
  • cooking is all about buying good ingredients and then working with them so quickly that you don't ruin them (with the exception of marinading, more later)
  • cooking is a very fast process, so be sure to have all necessary ingredients chopped, prepped and within easy reach ("prior prep prevents..." and all that) - along with a plate or bowl to decant the finished food into
  • be prepared to take huge liberties with recipes, as some ingredients are almost impossible to source in the UK outside London (note to readers; if anyone can point me at a source of Gyoza skins within easy drive of Basingstoke, I'm all ears - otherwise, I'll have to figure out how to make them from scratch and will Get It Horribly Wrong for a while)
  • keep a pint of beer to hand - rather than do the whole Keith Floyd "get plastered on wine while cooking" thing, I prefer wine with food but beer while preparing food :-)
btw, a note to my Oriental friends. I know that talking about "Oriental cooking" is equivalent to talking about "European cooking" in terms of scope, and a gaijin like me has only eaten maybe 5% of the range of dishes that the Orient has to offer, but trust me, that 5% tastes bloody good and I aspire to cooking it. In particular, Thai and Hunan food kicks righteous ass. Singapore Noodles likewise.

Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 0: Preface

Well, where do I start...?

While I was growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a mother who had a reasonable capability with pots, pans and traditional English "home cooking". Granted, she only cooked meat "well done" (as that was how she liked it) and wouldn't cook interesting things like whole trout as she "didn't like the way it looked at her". Nonetheless, she was deft enough with pies, pastries, curries (mmm, maybe a bit ahead of her time there in 1970s South Cheshire), roasts and veg (which at least she didn't boil into tasteless mulch, choosing to leave some flavour and texture in them) to keep me sufficiently well fed that I grew up to a height of 6'4" and eventually ceased to be hugely out of proportion.

However, she refused to teach me to cook. My father didn't know how to cook either, and even if he did, I'm certain my mother wouldn't have let us loose in her kitchen. You get the idea.

They're both dead now, so they can't teach me anything about cooking (or anything else) anyway.

After heading off to University knowing how to cook precisely nothing, I've survived for the better part of 16 years on things out of packets, supermarket ready meals, take-aways, and the produce of pubs and restaurants.

Then, after a few years, I got a girlfriend. She still hasn't moved in full-time - even after 11 years and counting - however she deigns to spend a few weeks a year over here with me. She's got a few signature dishes too, and IMHO they are rather more creative than what my Mum used to serve up with the exception of the curries - although as Jasmina (the girlfriend) hails from Bosnia and still spends most of her time in Sarajevo, her idea of "good home cooking" is rather different to what my mother's would have been, anyway :-).

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate good food. I even managed to dine at the French Laundry (with Jasmina) in 2003, so it could be argued that "most food is downhill from there". Having travelled around a bit, my list of favourite dishes is pretty eclectic. Trouble is, by the start of 2006, I didn't know how to cook a single one of them.

Having gone to the lengths of moving house to try to get some of my life back by being closer to work (as well as providing a more pleasant living environment for Jasmina, in the hope of her staying over here for longer), I now have a bit more time on my hands. I've also been figuring out such fundamental things as chopping and slicing while she's been over here, by doing the "useful boyfriend / magician's apprentice" thing and wielding a knife while directed about how much of what to cut, and how.

Time, I think, to get some of that "home cooking" feeling back. I decided to do so, as a New Year's Resolution.

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davew

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