Tricks’n’Tips…..

…and helpful hints.

INTRODUCTION:

This section is organised (loosely) into several areas.

  1. Hygiene
  2. Dealing with….
  3. Making Basics
  4. Cooking Processes
  5. Seasonings
  6. Using ‘leftovers’
  7. Oh Bugger….PANIC!

Some duplication/overlapping will be discovered here and there in this section simply because the subjects are quite important.  For example, handwashing is just so important when cooking that you’ll find it mentioned all over the place.

 ‘Sniffing Out’ Reduced Produce:

Supermarket ‘reduced’ cabinets & town market stalls at the end of market day are great sources of lots of bargains.  If you know that you need a few pounds of mushrooms in the next few days (say, for the veggie mushroom bake – see the Recipe Bank), go down to your local town produce market towards the end of their trading day.  You’ll probably find all you require.  If not, you’ve still got your normal outlets to go to.  We have good town markets where we live in both Britain and France, and the pickings can be good if you catch them at the right time.

If you should happen to find an abundance of leeks and potatoes somewhere, just make a big batch of soup.  It freezes well and, if you do the ‘frozen bowl’ trick…… (see Frozen Bowl Trick – now there’s a surprise!).  You can make the soup one day and you’ll be able to leave the nights for partying…

Different supermarkets have their own way of reducing their near-date food.  Some go for the ‘Ooops!’ label system; others just reduce the price and keep the item in the same place with just the colour of the label indicating that it’s been reduced; some put their reduced in a single dedicated cabinet where vultures like me can peruse their cast-offs.  Don’t be concerned about near-date produce because if you have space in your freezer you can bag a bargain – the date loses its significance (relatively) once it’s frozen.

Re-freezing…

Watch out for things like fish & seafood though:

  • Often fish or seafood has already been frozen

and you must not re-freeze it.

  • Read the labels – it’ll say if it’s ok to freeze it.
  • Always be aware that anything that has been frozen and has thawed out cannot be re-frozen unless it was raw when it was thawed, and you have since cooked it fully.
  • Never take a chance – it is just not worth it.
  • If you do re-freeze when it says not to, you’ll probably be ill – or worse.
  • You don’t want to wake up dead, now do you!

Quantities, measurements & timings: 

Approximation cookery is all about being calm when cooking.  No pressure.  You needn’t concern yourself about exact quantities or precise timings.

When I started to cook properly (quite recently really – about 1996 when I was 45 years old) I was so panicky about quantities, times, heat settings and things because I had no concept of whether things were right or not – just like you, I had little or no experience.

My advice?  Relax and use a little common sense.

(It shouldn’t explode – well, not normally anyway.)

Oh yes; you’ll soon notice as you start to use this little book that I describe amounts like ‘a British Standard Dollop’ of this and ‘a slug’ of that.

Obviously, there is no such thing as a British Standard of ‘Dollop’, so, take it that if it’s not specified in the recipe to be measured by the milli-ouncimetre, it doesn’t actually matter all that much. 

Chill man.

 HYGIENE:

My Dad was so fond of repeating:

“Y’ll eat more’n’a’peck o’muck in y’life, m’lad”.

Roughly translated, it means that you should not be too worried about making everything completely spotless – including your Royal Jersey new potatoes – as a bit of honest ‘muck’ won’t do you too much harm.  You see, to my mind, we have more allergies now because we have over-used antiseptics, antibiotics and generally available antibacterial products in the past; but that statement refers to ‘just plain muck’; it doesn’t apply to avoiding harmful bacteria – so don’t be tempted to use a breadboard for raw chicken! (More later).

Thus, for the purpose of this little culinary disasterpiece, the main thing I wish to commend to you is to WASH YOUR HANDS and keep them clean right through the cooking process.

  • Preparing raw chicken? – wash your hands before and after.
  • Peeling the veg? – wash your hands before and after.
  • Fussing the dog or cat? – wash your hands afterwards.
  • Making bread? – wash your hands before and afterand during!.
  • Oh yes, and also quite importantly but for a different reason; don’t prepare onions, garlic and especially chillies and then go to the loo, or you’ll regret it. Painfully!   Certain parts of the human body don’t react well to chilli residue – and that applies to both sexes.  
  • Don’t put contact lenses in either (in your eyes, not the loo – silly!) after handling members of this vegetable group. It’s just the same advice as above – thoroughly wash your hands before and after – and even then the chilli residue remaining on your fingers after a thorough washing may well still be enough to send you to hell and back on a carthorse…..twice!

 Chopping boards:

Chopping boards are really important.  The first thing to understand and to keep to, without exception, is that you must not use a table or kitchen surface for chopping any foodstuffs.  EVER.  You just can’t control how clean it stays as easily as you can a chopping board.

You must use a chopping board.  Really. Honestly.  Truly.

I was horrified to see a TV ‘chef’ using his wooden worktops to chop food on.  ARGHH! – what an example!

Commercial kitchens are compelled to use different coloured chopping boards for different foods by regulation.  Raw meat, cooked meats, veg, fish, etc all have to be prepared on different colour coded plastic ones.

As a private individual, you don’t have to go to this length, but you will certainly need to be very careful about washing your chopping boards between uses.

I consider that, even as an individual cook, it is a good idea to keep a red plastic board for preparation of raw meats so that you don’t cross-contaminate your salad stuff by preparing chicken and then accidentally using the same board to prepare a fruit salad – even if it has been thoroughly washed and dried between times; I certainly do.

Encouragingly, however, I am led to believe that it has been scientifically proven to make no difference whether the board is made from wood or plastic as long as it is washed thoroughly and allowed to dry, so the material is somehow now made immaterial – if you get my drift.

…but still, please don’t ever be tempted to use a breadboard for raw chicken; it’s important not to give people Salmonella – ‘cos they won’t send you a thank you card for it!

  1. DEALING WITH……..

Stock:

Stock is normally made by boiling bones (and other grotty bits that you are not going to consume) in a stockpot for hours.  The resulting liquid, reduced in volume by boiling rapidly to evaporate the water content, may then be used as ‘stock’ in recipes.

Caw’d’hell (as they say in these parts)…… what a time waster.

For you as a modern individual cooking in your situation, the traditional stock pot method simply cannot be practically used.

So when it’s not possible to employ a stockpot, I go by ‘Formula KF’.

(In other words, use a stock cube like Keith Floyd does when he’s on the box).

Have you ever watched his culinary TV exploits?  Cooking in all manner of strange and exotic locations?  I once watched him trying to cook quicker than an incoming tide; he was about as effective as King Canute – wonderfully daft ol’ bat.  He did all sorts of silly things for the sake of culinary entertainment but he was never too proud to chuck in a stock cube when necessary.  He is generally revered (outwardly, at least) by the TV chefs but the same TV chefs (well, most of ‘em anyway) refuse to even admit that stock cubes exist – except to turn their noses up to their use.  The latest thing is the stock blob – a mini-jelly stock thing in a pack.  Great; let’s do it.  It is silly to even think that everyday family cooks might be prepared to have a permanent stock pot for normal cooking (having said that, as I type I have a brace of pheasant carcasses on the cooker for just that reason. . . but perhaps I have more of an interest in cooking than most people).

There are also tubs of ready-made stock available these days.  These are from a commercial stock-pot.  They are pretty costly tubs of stock, but they are tubs of concentrated stock, so…..

So, here’s the advice when using stock cubes:

  • don’t use too many,
  • don’t do your final seasoning until after you’ve put your stock cubes in and
  • don’t rely on stock cubes for the major source of flavour.  They are only a flavour component, not a main course on their own.

Oxo has traditionally been the main one I suppose; Knorr do some as well – including the jelly-blobby thing – and there are other, less well-known ones.  Try ‘em all.

I still like to use the jellified stock I find at the bottom of my fat cup in the fridge.  I discard the fat (see how to do it properly later in this section) and just use the jelly.  The disadvantage of my method is that I cannot guarantee that the jelly I have is suitable – or I may not even have any available at all!

What I do not do – ever – is use gravy granules.  I am sure that the manufacturers would be able to put forward very good and valid reasons for their use, but I simply don’t like them.  And yes, I have tried them all.

That doesn’t stop you from trying them, by the way.

My opinion is only my opinion; and I’m certainly an opinionated ol’ git. 

Nick some from someone else’s kitchen cupboard and try them; see what you think – you are the important person in your kitchen, not me.

 Fats & Oils:

We are always being encouraged to reduce the amount of saturated fats (basically, animal fats) in our diet these days.  We are told that goose fat and duck fat are the least bad, you could say, so roast potatoes done using either of those are ok occasionally – and friggin’ tasty they end up as well, I can tell you.

I discovered a reasonable information source at www.healthcastle.com; you could do worse than have a look at it.

Basically, vegetable oils are now recommended, but which one do we use to do what?

Oils for frying: 

As olive oil has a comparatively low temperature at which it starts to smoke, frying with EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) is in general a waste of good oil because it’s certainly not the cheapest option.  Best to use corn, peanut (groundnut), grapeseed, rapeseed, sunflower or canola oil.  I keep bottles of both EVOO and grapeseed oil by the cooker and a 3 litre bottle of sunflower oil in the cupboard.

Just don’t use ‘engine’, ‘baby’ or ‘body’’.

Waste fats & oils: 

When you cook meats, there will be a loss of fat from it; there’ll be some juices too.  Unless the meat is duck or goose, the fat is of no real use and you need to get rid of it.

STOP!

Do not put it down the sink.

It will benefit neither you nor the greater environment.  Just don’t do it.

So if it can’t go there, where can it go? 

Well, it can be poured into a retired/redundant cup/mug and refrigerated and then dealt with when cold.  A glass cup is best (not a conventional glass) as you can see through it to check whether there is a layer of juices at the bottom.  You want to retain those jellified juices – see ‘Stock’ above.

When the fat is cold, use a knife to remove the congealed fat and transfer it to a used tin can, then put that into a plastic bag, tie it securely then put it into the normal rubbish bin.  You don’t want it leaking out if you can avoid it.

Retain the jelly and use it to boost up a meat stock.

Duck or goose fat may be used for roasting potatoes or veg or almost anything as it has less harmful bits’n’pieces than most of the other animal fats – and spuds roasted in goose or duck fat are lovely.

The Ice Cube Trick:

If you are cooking roast meat and want to use the juices from the meat but don’t want the fat, take the meat out to stand and rest for a while on a plate under foil and then use one or even both of these methods.

  • Put two or three ice cubes into the juices. Roll them around a bit and they should pick up the fats as they solidify on the cold surface of the cube.  Lift each cube out and put it into a cup to melt down – don’t drop them into the sink.  Repeat until the required amount of fat has been removed and continue to make the gravy with the almost fat-free stock.
  • Lay kitchen paper on the surface and let the fat soak in. Discard it into the rubbish bin.

Clever, eh?

(Unfortunately I can’t take the credit – it’s been done for years!)

Eggs:

Cracking an egg:

Yes, ok.  I know it’s easy, but how many times have you found shell in it when the egg has started to cook in the pan?  Ok, so there is a way of avoiding that happening.

Whilst holding the egg in one hand, use a fork, sideways on in the other to crack the eggshell.  Don’t use a sharp knife.  The back of a knife is fine to use so long as it’s quite wide and it doesn’t splinter the shell – but even then it often does; a fork tends not to.

Separating an egg yolk from the white:  

(Or, of course, the other way around – if you want to be awkward).

Numerous methods have been used, including cracking the egg onto a plate, placing an egg cup over the yolk and pouring the white into a bowl.  Even using a manufactured egg separator.

Let’s just get down to it and do it.  Try this method:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Crack the egg with a fork and let the white slip through your fingers into a bowl below, leaving you holding the yolk in your hand.
  • Don’t squeeze it!
  • Plop the yolk into another bowl – or cup, or mug, or….
  • Separate as many as you need.
  • Now wash your hands again.
  • Job done.

Cutting/chopping with a sharp knife (without cutting your fingers):

The quickest way to cut your finger in a kitchen is by using a blunt knife.  I know that it seems a weird thing to say, but it’s true. 

When you buy/obtain/adopt your knives, try to get plain bladed ones, as these can be sharpened easily.  Some smaller and/or serrated blade knives can be of great use, but generally the large plain-bladed knife is the most useful.  The exception is a breadknife, as this is best serrated.

Get a knife sharpener.  A simple one with metal discs is probably best as this gives the best ‘hollow ground’ sharp blade, otherwise just get a water stone. (and no, you don’t get one of those from Waterstones!).

When cutting tomatoes just pierce the skin of the tomato with the point of the blade where you intend to cut, then revert to the normal cutting action.  This will allow you to cut very thin slices for salads, etc.

People often ask me how I can possibly get the slices so thin – I just tell ‘em that I’m highly skilled, wonderfully talented, and also very modest as well as being sexy….then they don’t believe a word!

Well, they shouldn’t either; I just use sharp knives.

Slicing/chopping onions:

You may be aware that the humble onion is used as a basis for so many dishes in European cooking – in fact it’s probably now more like world-wide – so you really do need to know how to process an onion for use. 

Use a wide-bladed chef’s/cook’s knife that is sharp; and the sharpness is very important. Whether you use white, red or any other colour onions, the simplest way to process an onion is thus:

  • Trim off the top of the onion by placing it on its side on a chopping board and using a sharp, wide-bladed cook’s knife, cutting downwards towards the neck of the onion. The root end is done the same way.  Tear down the side of the onion with the unfinished cut skin each time.
  • If onion rings are required, peel the outer two layers away. Cut as many onion rings as required, and then continue chopping.

If onion rings are not required, place the onion base down on the chopping board and cut vertically down the middle.  Peel off the outer layer(s) as necessary.

  • Lay the cut edge of the halved onion on the board and cut slits in the onion from one end almost to the other, but not quite. The joined (uncut) part is needed to hold it all together whilst you do the next bit.    DIAGRAM
  • Turn the onion through 90 degrees and cut across the slits. You can do finely chopped, medium or coarsely chopped by the sizes of the resulting bits.  When you get to the end of the slits, turn through 90 degrees again and chop the rest.

To slice onions just cut right across.

DIAGRAM

To cut rustically, either cut the onion half vertically, once or twice, leaving great big bits.    (I said BITS – don’t get excited!)

DIAGRAM

Spring (salad) onions are different.  Normally the outer layer (or two) is removed after the root is cut off and then it’s just sliced across at a bit of a jaunty angle.  For oriental cookery the green bits are often shredded; i.e. cut along their length rather than across.

Mange Tout (Eat all):

Peas in flat pods.  Lovely.  Just make sure that they have no stalk and stir fry them in butter and olive oil.

Sugar Snap Peas:

As tasty as Mange Tout above, but I slightly prefer them for their wonderful flavour of ‘pea-i-ness (I know it isn’t a word – but it should be) and texture.

Leave them whole, but you must check for strings.  Take a small knife and pinch the end, tearing away the hidden string from each side of the pod.  Cook as Mange Tout.

Slicing tomatoes:

If cutting tomatoes just pierce the skin of the tomato with the end of the blade where you intend to cut, then revert to the normal cutting action.  The really sharp blade will allow you to cut very, very thin slices for salads, etc.

There is, surprisingly, also a knife especially made for slicing tomatoes.  I got mine on a French market – perhaps they’re available in the UK; I really don’t know at present.  It has a very narrow, curved and serrated blade.  It does the job very well indeed and does away with piercing the skin before you cut.  Tell Santa that you’d like it on your list…. That way someone else does all the searching, you get the knife that you want and you get it as a gift!  Win/Win situation!

Dealing with Garlic:

Garlic is sold in BULBS or bunches of bulbs.  You need to push hard down on the stalk of the bulb on a hard surface and the CLOVES of garlic will break away.  When a recipe calls for 3 CLOVES  of garlic, don’t put in 3 WHOLE BULBS or you’ll be nobody’s friend for about a year.

Peeling garlic: 

This is so easy when you do it right – even Frank Spencer couldn’t cock it up!  Take a clove of garlic from the bulb, trim off the root end and then lay a broad-bladed cooks knife across the clove lying on a chopping board.  Push gently, squeezing the clove onto the board.  There will be a little cracking noise and you’ll then be able to peel off the paper-like skin, easy as pie.  Chop coarsely or finely, as necessary.  The finer you chop the more flavour you’ll release.

 Using garlic cloves with their coats on: 

Sometimes a recipe may tell you to throw a few whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic in.  That’s great.  Do so.  The garlic just reduces to a lovely mush in its own skin and is nicely aromatic when squeezed out of its coat.  Not strong, just beautifully aromatic.   Don’t let them roast for more than about 20-30 minutes though or they’ll go dry & bitter.

Asparagus – a wonderful vegetable with a lamentably short season:

Asparagus is expensive.  Lovely, but expensive.  Many people simply cut the spears all the same length and discard the tails.  STOP!  DON’T DO IT!  Don’t Waste Taste!

  • Hold each spear in both hands and bend it.  Work your way from the thick end (that’s been nearest the ground) until it snaps.  The fibres will determine where it’s best to break.  Put the broken-off ends (tails) aside.  You will use the lovely bits that they call the spears.
  • The broken-off ends of asparagus have fibres that are long and tough.  That’s why it broke off where it did on each of the spears.  Thus, you can’t use them in the form of spears as they’ll taste great but have the texture of a ship’s rope.
  • However, if you use a sharp knife on a chopping board, you can slice off quite a few thin slices of asparagus, until the knife starts to become difficult to get through it.  Doing this to all the spears will probably get you thirty or forty narrow discs of asparagus out of a bunch, all of which have very short fibres ; all of which would normally be discarded.
  • Add to that the action of taking these bits that are too hard to salvage even as discs and cutting them lengthways, in the direction of the fibres, into narrow strips and using them to make a subtle but flavoursome stock by boiling them for twenty minutes in just enough water to cover them.  Then, and only then, can the shredded tail ends be discarded.
  • Of course, if you wish to be swish, and serve your asparagus all the same length, you can slice off the unequal length of tails from the good bits, adding those discs to whatever you’re making.
  • Asparagus doesn’t take much cooking, especially the thin stuff.  Just gently pan-fried in a minuscule drop of oil or butter with plenty of seasoning.

Washing or cleaning veg:

Muck – that is soil – should be washed off but if the item is to be peeled, you don’t need to be too fussy.  If carrots are small just wash them and take the top off – don’t peel them as you’ll get much more flavour with them cooked whole.

Cut across the stalk end and trim the first outer leaves of Brussels sprouts; don’t bother with the cross-cut that so many people do to them it really isn’t necessary.

Leeks harbour soil deep into the leek itself, so cut off the root ball, remove the outer layer and then slit around the leek on the next layer as high up as possible, encircling the leek where the layer looks to be going hard.  You may do about three layers one after the other.  Don’t worry about any soil under the layers yet.  Slit the leek all the way along its length, hold it by the white end and flick through the layers under a running tap to wash away all the soil before chopping  cutting into whatever size chunks you wish.  If for buttered leeks, make them about 25mm (1”).

Preparing mushrooms:

Wipe mushrooms, don’t wash them.  They can get awfully slimy if you do.  Wipe them with kitchen roll; much nicer.

Wild Mushrooms:  Cut the harder bits of the lower stems into smaller sizes, whilst normally leaving the body of the wild variety whole or just halved.  Don’t be afraid to use scissors rather than a knife.

Preparing green cabbage:

Pull off the most discoloured and grottiest outer leaves & discard.  Pull the other leaves off one by one, removing the centre spar of each of the leaves.  The thinner end of each spar (about half) can be chucked into the soup pot with the asparagus trimmings, the tops of the leeks, carrot waste (except the stalk base) and the washed potato peelings.

The leafy part of the leaf can then be rolled up tightly and shredded with a wide-bladed knife and cooked for a few minutes in a saucepan with a splash of water and a knob of butter or marg.  Season quite heavily.

Don’t boil cabbage as a veg – remember schooldays?  YUK SQUARED!

 Carrots:

The humble carrot is actually a wonderful vegetable.

  • You can slice them ‘Julienne’ – like matchsticks (if you have the patience of a saint and eons of time);
  • You can cut into ‘batons’- about as thick as a ball point pen, but as long as you like;
  • You can cut ‘rondels’ (posh word for round)
  • You can cut obliquely (‘at an angle’ to you, dearie) or;
  • You can cut the in the way that I favour – ‘chippings’

(See crudely drawn diagram by mine own fair hand).   DIAGRAM

They take about 12-15 mins to steam or boil (Julienne take very little time because they are so thin…. 3 mins?).

Parsnips:

Parsnips can be lovely – but they can, treated the wrong way, be sickly.

The beauty of parsnips is their sugar content.  Harvest that quality and you’re home and dry.

  • Peel, using a peeler, not a knife
  • Cut into bits as long as you like but not thicker that 1cm at any point.
  • If you cut into quarters lengthways (even for part of its length), just trim an amount of the core from the bits from the thicker end of the ‘snip, to reduce its tendency for the core to become ‘wooden’.
  • Pop ‘em all into a non-metallic bowl with a teaspoon of water, cover with cling film and pierce the film in a couple of places
  • Put them into the microwave and cook on full power for 2 mins
  • Drain, place the ‘snips in an oven roasting tin and liberally drizzle on some sort of veg oil (not olive or one of the expensive ones), season well, toss about in the tin then settle them down.
  • Put into an oven at mk4 (180C) for 30 mins until caramelising nicely.

Skinning peppers: 

The greatest decision to be made with capsicum/bell peppers in general is the hard skin – do you leave it on or take it off?  Unlike spuds, the skin of a pepper is not good for you at all.  It’s not fibrous and it’s almost indigestible.  It’s not a crime to leave the skin on; it’s generally ok and really makes the colour of the dish very attractive when bright yellow, orange, green and red specks are seen throughout the food – remember that you eat with your eyes first.  However, it isn’t too difficult to remove the skin cleanly and completely and although it makes the colour less bright and sparkling, I believe that the absence of the hard film skin really makes a big difference in eating enjoyment.  Here are several ways to remove the skin easily……

Method 1:  Oil the peppers & roast in a very hot oven for 10 minutes.  Remove, put into a bowl and cover with cling film to allow self-steaming to occur. (Alternatively, you can just pop them into a plastic bag and seal it up.)  After a few minutes remove the peppers and the skin should peel off easily.  Discard the skin and remove all seeds.

Method 2:  Smear veg oil all over the skin and use a small cooking blowtorch to heat the skin so that it blackens and separates from the flesh of the pepper.  Do this all over then have a quick scrape with a small bladed sharp knife and you have a naked pepper.

Method 3:  No cooking blowtorch?  Use a gas ring on full, with the pepper on a fork, and then scrape.

Method 4: No gas ring?  Use an electric grill (no, dumbo, not an electric DRILL!  A grill.)    Let the grill get very hot (5-10 mins) before putting the halved & oiled peppers under the heat.  Oh yes, and open a window because of the smoke, and be prepared to fend off the fire-fighters when they arrive….. or, indeed, befriend them and offer to cook for them, according to gender and/or sexual orientation.  Nuff sed.

 Skinning tomatoes:  Easy!  No, you don’t need a cooking blowtorch or any other hardware.  Switch on your kettle.   Pierce the skin of the fridge-cold tomatoes several times with a sharp knife as you put them into a bowl (no, don’t stab them like you are committing serial tomatocide).  Pour the boiling water onto the tomatoes and a few seconds later you can fish them out with a draining spoon (a large spoon with holes in) popping them into a bowl of cold water; then you’ll find it easy to pull the split skin straight off with the same sharp knife.  Don’t leave them in the boiling water too long though, and only do about three at a time otherwise they cook in the bowl.

Preparing pig’s kidneys:

…is actually less of a chore than you might imagine.

If you get the kidneys from a butcher, watch what he does.  There is a membrane (a thin skin) on the outside.  That has to go.  The kidney is then slit in half completely down its length, along the side, to give two almost oval halves.  Hold this flat down on the chopping board and turn a large, wide-bladed knife so that the blade is horizontal.  At one third along its length from one end, start to slice through sideways, feeling as you go, to cut to the end.  The core is harder to cut than the outer nice bit.  Lift up the flap and see.  You want to have just a tiny amount of texture to be seen in the cut.  If there is much white on the cut bit, you are going too deep.  When that cut is done, turn the kidney half around and cut the other way along it.  You may wish to use a fork to secure the exposed core rather than to try to keep hold of it – it can be a little slippery.  The core will be left on the chopping board with some nice kidney surrounding it.  Slice away the edges at an angle so as to get the most kidney to cook.

Slice up the cores and put into a small saucepan with a little boiling water and put it on the heat – you want to boil the cores to get the flavour into the water.

Do the same with the next half.  Cook the cores for ten minutes and cool them either for the dog or cat.  My dog loves ‘em.  No dog?  Does next door have a dog?  Give it a treat.  Use the small amount of water as the flavour base for your gravy or sauce.

The kidney can then be sliced to whatever size you wish, and cooked.  I like it simply fried in olive oil and butter with quartered shallots, wild mushrooms and a herby gravy.  Either cook it fast and serve it just a little pink in the centre – it’s beautifully soft this way – or casserole it long and low.

Herb butters:  I like to do herb butters for dinner parties; they look nice, give the guests something to look at whilst waiting and when they’re used, they taste nice – in other words, good all round.

Steaks especially benefit from a mixture of fresh herbs trapped within a nice unsalted butter.  Chop your fresh herbs finely and mix them with a gently softened, but not melted butter, then either spread the butter on greaseproof paper and chill, later to cut out shapes with a metal cutter and then freeze them; or roll into a sausage with cling film and freeze, to cut slices from the sausage for use later on.  For use with cheese, use parsley, thyme and sage chopped into a softened butter and served in a ramekin to be spread onto the crackers or bread to be topped with the cheese – especially Brie, Camembert or a goat’s cheese.

Yo!  Now that’s what I call a good ‘cheese’n’bikkies’.

Skinning Broad Beans:

UH?        So why would we ever want to take the skins off friggin’ broad beans?

Well, broad bean skins are actually quite thick, tough and tasteless (I know quite a few people like that…..); and the colour of the naked bean is so much more vibrant.

And who the hell started doing it – go on, surprise me . . . ?

Ah yes, well you can blame Michelin Star/TV chefs for that.  They started doing things like broad bean puree; which I have to admit is lovely, but it was really for the intense and vibrant colour.  Their food is about glamour, it’s about being new, different – and expensive….and they have the sous chefs to sit there taking the skins off individual broad beans.

Sorry; you are your own sous chef!

Ok, how do you do it?  I suppose you have to cut it in a cross and slide it all off in one piece, chanting ‘the ode to the broad bean’. . . .

Almost.  Actually, it’s quite straightforward – the bean even has its own guide-line that it grows naturally.  There is a heel mark where the ‘umbilical cord’ joins the bean to the pod.  Score along this with the smallest sharp kitchen knife you have (I know, I’m always saying that you should use the larger knives . . .  but this is different, you need accurate control of the tip of the blade or you’ll stab yourself with it) and just squeeze the body of the bean.  It will pop out.  I think that it’s quite obvious that a broad bean straight out of the freezer will not be very co-operative, but equally, a freshly boiled and still warm bean will be likely to squash when being tenderly squeezed.  So, cooked and cold – that’s my rule.

What about fresh ones, bought in their pods?

Of course you can.  Fresh veg is always better – except for the pea, of course, as it’s been proven that unless the pea has been harvested within the last 20-30 minutes, the frozen pea has better nutritional value or more vitamins or will make you fart less or something.  As far as I’m concerned though, broad beans should be bought frozen because there’s less friggin’ about with them and they are so much less expensive – without a loss of goodness.  I have to confess that as a pragmatist; I consider the practical nature of doing things rather than the over-aesthetic, pretty-pretty, super-stylish, image-conscious ways that some flat-topped TV chefs might see things.

Oh dear, I don’t think that I’ll ever be invited round to GR’s for a free nosh now.  Oooops.

(Yes, Colin, we think that you might have fluffed it with him.)

Ok, but what about the puree – how do you do that?

First strip about four zillion cooked and cooled beans – ok, perhaps a hundred + – and then pop them into the food processor and give ‘em a good blitz, adding drops of a flavourless oil bit by bit until you get the right consistency.  It’ll need a good amount of salt and the same of ground black pepper, but it tastes wonderful.

Grating cheese:

Cheese is normally of most use when grated (don’t buy ready-grated cheese as it is so much more expensive) so it is a good idea to grate it ready for use, but then there is a problem with catching the cheese as it’s being grated.  Well, Ikea (bless their particularly puzzling & peculiar  pictorial assembly instructions) sell a very useful pair of cheese graters and plastic containers with lids, one red, one black, with their coarse and fine steel graters on top.  This means that they can be used to catch the grated cheese and also store the cheese as well, as they are closed with their own lids.   I keep our common mousetrap (that’s what we call everyday normal cheese in our house) in one and the parmesan in the other, together with the block, ready to be grated freshly.  The system works a treat.  I believe they may be available elsewhere too.

Making the most of:

If you want to make a veg stock or a soup, lift out the spuds into a warmed bowl and put the washed peelings  and any other veg waste (including onion skins) into the hot water, boiling for a further 15 mins, then take out the onion skins and liquidise the rest.  Reduce.    Season to taste.  Voila!  Put in any left-over veg from containers in the fridge as well if you have any.

If the soup is much too thin, add any broken dried pasta that you have in the bottom of the packet/pot.  Either liquidise it when it’s been in there 10 mins, or just leave it as pasta.

Toasting nuts:  (No, fellers, this is not a form of male torture).

When a recipe calls for ‘toasted’ pine nuts, all that is meant is that they need to be put into a hot, dry pan and heated quite strongly.  This heating intensifies the flavours.

Now, a problem!  If they are heated too much they will simply burn, so they need to be shaken about in the pan quite a lot. The things to be toasted (maybe coriander seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, almonds – that sort of thing) need to experience the searing heat of the pan and the air within it, but not the steady burning heat of just sitting there on a hot surface.  Keep ‘em moving.  That’s why, although it may seem to be a better idea to toast them in an oven because the heat is atmospheric as well as direct, you have a problem with keeping them moving due to the restricted access of the oven.  Sesame seeds, if overheated, will start to explode – though they are very small ‘explosions’, you will understand.

Saving energy:

One of the things that you’ll need to do is to save energy, whether gas or electricity.  No, not for the benefit of the depleted ozone layer, no, not for the benefit of the country – just for you, because the fact of the matter is simple – the energy you don’t use, you don’t pay for.  It’s just very basic economics.  Don’t use, don’t pay.

One-pan cooking:

I know that it’s pretty obvious, but if you are cooking for one or two people, you can use just one small saucepan for veg.   Using only one gas ring would be better than using two or more.  Say that you are cooking six smallish new potatoes, six baby carrots (little, short, stubby Chantenay carrots are lovely if you can find them in the reduced cabinet… like I do!)  and two dozen French beans for two people.  Start the washed but not peeled or skin-scraped potatoes off (Stage 1) in lightly salted cold water, as you should with all root vegetables, then (Stage 2…. ) about five minutes after reaching boiling point and being turned down to simmer, put in the baby carrots, just topped & tailed but not peeled – they retain the flavour much better that way.  Yes, I know that I just said that all root veg should be cooked from cold, but these are lovely, tender, baby carrots, just waiting to be lightly cooked and eaten with butter and enthusiasm.

Anyway, I’m cheating!  (but fairly).

After another five minutes (Stage 3….)  put in the French beans, again topped & tailed.  Just so long as you put in enough cold water at the start, with the addition of these other veg in mind, there will be no problem.  Simply ensure that they are covered with the boiling water.  If not, top up with a kettle.

You can even put the plates part-way over the top of the open pan to warm them (but remember to wipe their bottoms with kitchen roll before use).  Swap them over after a couple of minutes so that they both get a bit of heat.  You are paying for the heat; you might just as well use it to good effect.  Don’t put the plates completely over the pan, as it will make the pan over-boil, cause a smell, a mess on the cooker (meaning that you’d need to clean the cooker afterwards) and cause you to be much stressed.  That is certainly not my idea of cooking.  (See also STEAMING).

Cooking should be a pleasure – or at the very least, not a chore.

If you want to separate out the different veg out in the colander when you drain them, that’s ok.  I like to simply plate them up if it’s just for two, presenting them nicely as you do so.  It avoids another serving dish being necessary to heat and go to the table (thus less washing-up) and as you have two hands you can walk in with the two meals ready to put down in front of the other person, displaying how organised you are (unless, of course, you only have one – in which case….).

Ok, it might all be a load of bullshit, but what the hell!

Grotty bits of cheese:

Got any soft cheese like Brie or Camembert left over?  It might be a little past its best (and probably quite smelly) but don’t just bin it.  Put a peg on your nose and then thinly pare off the rind (and the super-green growth on its surface) and discard (in small quantities, into the dog), retaining as much of the body of the cheese as possible, however runny it is.  Chop it up and stir it into almost any meat mixture so that it melts and disperses – it will bolster the flavour of the meat that little bit and it’ll become a touch more robust.  Stilton’s a good one for this purpose.  You can add cheese to soup as well.

Overcooking veg:

Don’t.  Ugh!

Brussels sprout need 9-10 minutes in boiling water, carrots 15 minutes or less according to the size they’re cut.  Cook cabbage in butter, don’t boil it.  Leeks do well in butter and a tiny little bit of stock.  Cook ‘em well, but don’t cook ‘em to death – they’ll be knackered with a capital F.

Potatoes – floury vs. waxy:

New potatoes are more waxy, old ones become more floury with age.  I am not going to make a definitive list of either, but both Charlotte and Exquisa potatoes are wonderfully waxy when picked early in the season, and are wonderful as salad potatoes when boiled with lots of mint and allowed to cool.

Old potatoes are better for mash and chips because they are more floury.

Juicing lemons:

If you put lemons in the microwave for 10 seconds before juicing them, they will part with their juice more easily (10 secs for 1 or 2 lemons, 20 secs for 3 or 4 lemons).

Pre-heating oven/grill:

Any grill will need to be heated up before use.  Toast made under a heating-up grill will be drier in the middle as it has been exposed to the lower temperatures for a while.  It seems like a waste of energy, I know; but it is just necessary, I’m afraid.

Picking wild mushrooms:

Don’t.

It’s just too risky.

Either that or go on a course (National Trust, I believe do one) to learn what you can and can’t pick before you kill yourself or at least make yourself ill.  Also, commonly consumed field mushrooms may have been wee-weed on by wildlife, dogs or livestock – or even THE FARMER – UGH!

Too risky for me.

Salad dressings:

Well, walnut oil, sesame oil and hazelnut oil are all quite aromatic, and groundnut, sunflower and grapeseed are all very mild, but I still like good ol’ extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).  The ‘extra virgin’ bit (and I’ve known a few of those in my time – or at least that’s what they told me) means that the oil is from the first cold pressing; it’s the best quality oil from that particular olive; but there are good quality and less good quality olives, so it follows that there will be greater and lesser quality EVOO as well.

So what about ready-made salad dressings?  Ah yes.  There are so many available these days, flavoured with this and that, that and the other….. and all at a price……… all that you can do is try them and see.

But what about a cheap and tasty way?

Take a clean, empty jamjar and lid.  Take a clove of garlic and either chop it finely or crush it through a garlic press.  Take a teaspoonful of whole grain mustard (you could use Dijon or Old Fashioned – NOT ENGLISH!). Take sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil (3 or 4  parts oil to 1 part sherry vinegar).  Take some sea salt crystals.  Take some freshly ground black pepper.  Mix all together and put on the lid.  Shake vigorously (no, not you, the jamjar!)

Voila!  One perfect salad dressing.  Forget about the others.

You can stick a bit of thyme in now and again, perhaps some rosemary, but as a basic dressing you have the answer.

Let’s not arse about here, it’s a salad dressing not an oil painting…. it’s just cooking, not friggin’ fine art.

Do what’s tasty, not what’s trendy.  Enjoy.

Making bread:

Basically, as a rookie-cookie, don’t attempt it.  Not yet.

…..Oh go on then, but if you must do it, use a breadmix packet.  They offer several mixes, all of which I have tried and can vouch for.  They work, so long as you follow the destructions.  Wonderful.  There are a number of Breadmaking mixes on the market, have a look at where the bread flour can be found in the local supermarket, under ‘Home baking’.  They actually are simplicity itself to make and the resulting bread is great when trying to impress people (when you are trying to get Ma & Pa to subsidise you a bit more).  But practise first, before you unveil your attempts.  Remember that you have to be clever and resourceful to be a successful, solvent single person.

IMPORTANT: You must consume the bread (best made in the form of bread rolls) on the same day, or freeze it and use it later as this type of bread goes hard as rock overnight.  Bless the freezer once more.

Cheating with a kebab:

Loading a kebab skewer to make it look like there is more meat than there actually is!  Ok, it’s cheating, but if you can’t afford too much meat…………  All you need to do is fold the meat over and skewer it twice.  It takes more than twice the amount of room on the skewer, so looks quite bulky!

A great way to use up:

All your wrinkly and past-best root veg like carrots, spuds, swede, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes (yams), onions… just make Roast Veg Soup.  See the Recipe Bank.    It’s also great food when you’re broke.

Sauce glossifier:

This little trick thickens the sauce/gravy and also makes it shine.

Put a good knob of soft butter in a cup then add a couple of teaspoons of flour or cornflour.  Stir them together to make a cold roux (a buttery lump).  Collect it all together and spoon it into the hot sauce or gravy, keeping the lump of thickening moving.  Works a treat!

Herbs:

Dried or fresh?

FRESH almost every time.  However, we have a thing called winter when most herbs are not available fresh, so dried it must be at some time.

Also, fresh herbs can be friggin’ costly, so dried might be a better option at some times.  Anyway, you can nip next door for a little pinch of oregano or a shake of a ground cinnamon.

Using alcohol in cooking & importance of flaming:

If you use wine in a sauce, you must reduce the alcohol content or it will leave a bitter taste in the food.  It doesn’t HAVE to be flamed off, but the process does give some indication of how much there is left – and anyway, it’s fun!

Boil the wine and tip the pan so that the vapours are exposed to the gas flame – unless, of course you’re cooking with electricity.  I wouldn’t recommend using a match (it might fall into the wine) but I suppose that a blowtorch could be used.  Just make sure that it’s all gone.

Christmas:

Roasting the Xmas Turkey: 

Everyone has a different method.

Mine works every time.  Lovely moist turkey throughout the bird.  Easy.

Wash the turkey thoroughly, remove its bag’o’bits and pop them into the fridge – you’ll need ‘em later.  The turkey does need to be thoroughly defrosted by XMAS EVE as that’s when it goes into the oven – when you go to bed.

Put the turkey into an oven tin that is big enough to hold it. (You’ll need an oven big enough to cook it too…)

Take TWO long bits of foil, putting them side by side on the surface and fold the edges together to make a double-width foil DON’T be tempted to use sellotape!).  Put a mug of plain water in the tin and lay strips of bacon over the turkey breast and the exposed tops of the drumsticks – they need to be protected from the heat or they’ll get more cooking than is good for them.  Put small foil pieces over the drumsticks as well. Drizzle oil all over the bacon and put its hat on – put the foil over the bird, trying to keep the foil from touching the turkey breast if possible and sealing it all around the edge of the tin.  A bit like a foil tent!  You are trying to keep all the moisture in, so be careful to seal it properly around the edges.  Put one REALLY SMALL hole in the foil at the top, just to stop it blowing up like a balloon.   Put it into the oven, taking out any shelves not required, to make a bit more room.  Set the oven to about gas ¼ or 100 C.  The idea is to gently steam the bird overnight.  This keeps the moisture in and makes it truly succulent.

On Xmas morning, don’t be in a hurry to rescue the bird but at some time convenient take Tommy out of the oven, just loosen the foil and pour most of the juices into a bowl.  When this liquid is cooler, put it in the freezer as you want to solidify the fat and discard it, using the stock underneath for the gravy.  Baste the turkey juices over the bird, replace the foil and pop back in.  Don’t alter the oven setting.  About 2 hours before the bird is needed, take the foil off, turn the oven up to Gas mk 5 or 6 and close the door.  Give it a good hour in the heat and take it out to do your roast spuds.  The turkey can sit under foil again, on the surface, resting and becoming more succulent.

No, it won’t get cold – have you noticed how hot the kitchen is?

Flaming a Xmas Pud: 

Use a metal ladle.  Warm the ladle over a flame or an electric ring – it should be between warm and hot to the touch.

Pour brandy into the ladle.  Don’t go mad with the volume – a little goes a long way. Swoosh it around the ladle a bit to get it quite warm and then flame it either by the cooker flame or a lighter.  Ensure that you are working safely then pour over the Xmas pud.  It won’t be long before the flame goes out. (I like to splosh another glug of brandy over the pud before it’s flamed, then another after it’s served – but after the flame is out!  I allus wa’ greedy!)

Basting:

No, it’s not a veiled curse…..

Basting is the periodic pouring over of juices onto roasting meat.

By the way, ‘self-basting’ turkeys do not jump up and roll around in the juices and then settle down again to roast quietly again; they simply have a fat injected into them – sometimes just under the skin – to seep through.  Don’t believe them.  Baste it anyway – and don’t pay extra for it.

Pastry – Shortcrust, Filo, Puff;

This is very simple and straightforward advice here:  Buy them ready made.

No, I don’t believe in making pastry – not at all; no way.  There is no point in me standing there battling with pastry-making.  Forget it.  Go supermarket!

Rolling out pastry:

Sprinkle flour onto the surface (thoroughly cleaned, of course) that you intend to roll out onto, place the read-made pastry in the centre, sprinkling more flour on top.  Use a rolling pin (or a lemonade bottle devoid of label, glue and muck; shaken up to full pressure) to exert a light pressure on the pastry as it rolls over.

Lift the pastry, turn it though 90 degrees and turn it over and roll again.  This will roll it out the other way, ensuring that the rolling out is even.  Lift, turn, turn over again, sprinkle more flour and carry on doing this until the pastry is the thickness required or it reaches the size needed to cover the dish(es).  Puff pastry, about 8mm thick; Shortcrust about 5mm thick.

Better still, buy it ready rolled and rolled up into a roll (of course)

Lifting rolled-out pastry and taking it to the dish:

Place your rolling pin on the pastry, at one end.  Roll the pastry onto the pin, into a spiral so that the pastry can be lifted and taken the to the flan/pie dish, where it can be unrolled and placed into position.

Blind Baking:

Tarts (no sex here – we’re British!) very often need to be part-baked, empty, so that a soggy bottom is not experienced; after all, who wants a soggy bottom?  Once the pastry has been settled into the tart/flan dish and it has been pricked all over with a fork, a piece of greaseproof paper is then placed inside and then Baking Beans are poured onto the paper (NO!  NOT BAKED BEANS!).  Baking beans are just sacrificial dried beans of any sort that you reserve for holding down the pastry base to stop it from rising when baking a base empty.  Use them, remove them, cool them, store them and use them again next time. The beans will then be heavy enough to hold down the base and stop it puffin’ up.  It just needs to be physically held down.

(I know a few people who ought to be phys…..)

Ahem!

If you don’t have any Baking Beans, this ‘make do’ method will usually work:

Crack an egg into a mug.  Beat the egg with a fork.  Either using a pastry brush or a tablespoon, spread some of the beaten egg all over the very perforated inside of the bottom of the tart pastry.  This will help to stabilise the pastry as it cooks ‘blind’ for 10 mins.  It may rise slightly, but as it’s treated with the egg it will flatten back when pushed gently down.

Dealing with cooked Turkey drumsticks:

If you are using cooked turkey drumsticks instead of or as well as chicken in a dish, pull the flesh off the drumstick with freshly-washed hands, feeling carefully for the stiff bits that are to be found within the flesh.  Pull all these stiff bits off the ends of the muscles to which they are connected – they will come away if you do each one in turn.  You might prefer to use a knife but it really is best to pull it away.  Go on, get yer ‘ands mucky!

Stripping a chicken/poultry carcass for best results:

So many people ignore the remaining potential of a poultry carcass and think it’s all done and over with when the carving’s finished.  It just is not true; there is much to glean from it.  You just need to be prepared to get yer ‘ands mucky.

So wash ‘em thoroughly first – yes, even if it’s only you who’s going to eat the stripped off chicken.

Note:  If you are making chicken soup, just break up the carcass, put it all into a saucepan and two-thirds cover it with water.  Put it on a low heat with the lid on and forget about it for at least an hour; you can strip it afterwards.

To start to salvage good chicken meat, pull the cooled carcass apart, taking the rib cage away from the backbone.

Break off the Parson’s Nose (that’s the stickie-out tail bit just over the chuckie’s backside) and keep it for the dog.  Got no dog?  Keep it for next door’s dog.

Break each bone away in turn, making sure that all soft flesh is removed and retained in a bowl but the bone, cartilage and rubbery bits, all the fat and the skin are all discarded.  If you have a dog, only the bones themselves need to be actually binned, the rest can go in the dog alongside the curate’s snout.

Do not give dogs (or cats for that matter) poultry bones – with the exception of the parson’s nose – they love those bits, and they’re safe.

Run your fingers all over the carcass.  There are two little nuggets of flesh that are concealed in little dips on either side of the outside of the backbone – they are reputed to be the sweetest bits.  I confess that these just get scoffed when I’m doing it; nobody else gets a look-in.

Don’t forget to remove the dark stuff inside the carcass where the ribs meet the backbone – that can all go in the next lot of stock that you are making.

The gleaned flesh can be used in sandwiches, added to mayonnaise, a little curry powder and a few raisins to make a sort of cheat’s Coronation Chicken or you can whiz the meat up in a frying pan with an onion, add a little left-over rice and a couple of teaspoons of some sort of stock.  Make sure it’s really heated through very well, because of the rice, and scoff.

Crumble toppings:

Savoury or sweet, crumble toppings are great for putting over things like creamy garlic mushrooms, a winter meat casserole, porky chunks in cider, rhubarb, apples…. The basic crumble is simply flour and fat rubbed together without water.  Sweet crumble has sugar, savoury crumble has salt, herbs, probably even nuts.  It’s a great way to do a dish that people remember for the right reasons.

Custard:

Be practical, peeps – use Bird’s custard powder with milk and follow the destructions, or buy a can of ready-made.

Mould in jars of tomato puree, jam, etc:

This is a practical guide to coping in the kitchen at a time when you in’t not got cash to burn, yes?  So, if you find that when you open a jar or tomato puree (‘cos this is where I often find it) there are green furry things here and there, don’t bin the lot.  Take a spoon and carefully spoon out the offending green hairy areas, one by one, wiping the spoon with a bit of kitchen roll.  When you got the lot, give a light scrape over the top of the remainder WITH A CLEAN SPOON (otherwise you’d be spreading the spores everywhere, see?) and wipe that one.  With another spoon, take your dollop of tomato puree for your recipe.  That means that you can finish your recipe, you haven’t had to go out to buy a new jar of tomato puree and you’ll know to buy a tube next time because a jar goes mouldy before you’ve finished it!  Clever, eh?

Whisking egg whites:

At some point, you will be called upon to whisk egg whites.  Normally for puds/sweets/deserts, you will need to whisk them to put air into them, like a sort of egg white ‘foam’.  Meringues (pronounced MERRANGS – you recognise the name now, yes?) use whisked egg whites.  It’s not difficult at all, but you need to know how long to whisk egg whites for, to achieve what you want.

Equipment: 

You can either use a hand-held balloon whisk or an electric whisk.  The hand-held balloon whisk is more controllable but you must learn how to use it to whisk.  You are trying to put air into the egg whites, so try to think about that when you are having a go.  Consider that smacking this group of wire loops into the egg white is going to cause air to be taken into the mixture and that doing this repeatedly will actually cause the foam to form.  Yes?  Understand that?  No?

Oh dammit – use an electric whisk – all you have to do is hold it!

Here’s the egg-white-beating-virgin’s-guide-to-whisking egg-whites:

Make sure that the beaters are in the egg whites in the bowl and turn the whisk onto its first speed – not right up to fast speed – it’s not a boy racer machine and you are not trying to get away from traffic lights.  From a sort of translucent goo it starts to turn white.  That’s the air going in.  Stop the whisk, take the beaters out and you’ll see it all just flops back down.  Whisk some more.  Try the second speed.  Not too much.  Stop, what stage is it at?

Soft Peak Stage: 

This is reached before the hard peak stage.  It is when the beaters or hand whisk are withdrawn, the peak that the egg white makes is only capable of making a small roundish mound rather than a sharp (albeit droopy) peak.

Hard Peak Stage:  

Recipes for Meringues normally want the egg whites to be whisked to a hard peak stage.  Now, don’t get excited…….. What it means is that when you stop whisking, and you lift the beaters or the hand whisk out of the bowl, the peaks of the beaten egg white should be able to stand up quite proud, with just a small droop on the peak.

If you continue to whisk at the same rate, the egg white will eventually turn into a funny congealed mess as it will have been over-whisked and it will then be knackered with a capital F.

Sugar:

It will be necessary to whisk in sugar to make a meringue.  Pour in caster sugar whilst whisking slowly, bit by bit – not one great lump.

Just follow Delia’s recipe – you’ll be fine.

Cooking a meringue:

Long and very low.  An exceptionally low temperature is needed in the oven, as you are not so much cooking it as drying it out.  Normally it’s something like gas mk1 for 50 minutes or something similar, according to what sort of meringue you want to make.  They are not supposed to go brown, just a little golden tinge, that’s all.

Follow the word of Saint Delia, not me.

Ready-made meringues:

I must admit that I tend to use ready-made meringues as the meringue nests are so cheap to buy.  Look for them on the supermarket shelves – then look at the price of eggs.  No contest.

Molly’s doggy offal cake:

Got a mutt?   I have to confess that I am a proper soppy mutter.  Molly, the previous dog to this one was bilingual y’know.  She would take and obey commands barked at her in French as well as English.  Molly, a sort of a pedigree lovechild cum black lab/setter/pointer X, was trained as a pup with both languages as we knew she’d be in France a lot with us, so it made sense.  She was part of PAT – Pets as Therapy – and visited people in hospices around here every week – including St Nicholas Hospice, the wonderful organisation that will benefit from you buying this book.  The patients looked forward to her coming so much and they benefited greatly from her visits; it’s unbelievable the difference she made to them.   Look Molly up on www.muddimer.com and see the livercake recipe for yourself.  Make the livercake for your dog – not you.

The Ongoing Shopping List:

In our house we run an on-going shopping list.

We’re not super-organised but we like to avoid running out of things, so we have a magnet-mounted shopping list pad on the steel case of the microwave oven.  When we use a can of tomatoes, we list down a can of toms.  If we use another, we put x2 by the side.  If we use another, the 2 gets scrubbed out and a 3 put in its place.  We buy three containers of milk at a time, each of 4 pints, and put them in the freezer so that we never run out.  Watching the level of the milk in use we try to anticipate when it will be needed to start another one and we take a 4 pint container out of the freezer 24 hours before we think we’ll need it.  Normally it works – sometimes not, but we’re rarely stuck for milk.  We have a spare box of teabags.  When that box is started we put tea on the list.  For orange juice, it is when we have 2 left in the fridge.  Using this method we are able to keep an eye on stocks for the kitchen very easily and we can be fairly sure that we have what we should when we need it. And it works. 

Sounds a bit ‘anal’, yes?  But the big reason for doing this isn’t to be totally and completely efficient or to pander to an obsessional disorder, it’s just that we have a minute kitchen with very little storage and we keep the ‘larder’ in the garage downstairs.  It simply saves running up and down stairs too many times in a day, that’s all.  An’ I’m a lazy bugger.

Making chicken breasts a bit better:

There is a little bit of a hard tendon underneath the chicken breast.  It’s elongated and thin.  Look for it – it’s a different colour to the normal flesh – whiter.  When you find it, just either cut it out or snip it off with scissors. It isn’t a really horrible bit, but the chicken is certainly nicer without it.

Defrosting chicken:                   IMPORTANT!

When chicken has been frozen, it must be fully and completely defrosted right through before it is cooked.  Failure to completely defrost chicken will cause the inside not to be cooked completely and then all manner of problems occur.  The naturally occurring bacteria will not reach the temperature it needs to be killed and so food poisoning will most probably result.   It may just cause a severe case of gripey-guts, or it could kill.  Believe me, salmonella is not a condition you wish to experience – and if you give it to someone else they won’t send you a thanks card.  Always thaw out chicken thoroughly.  Either put it, covered, in the fridge overnight (in a high-sided bowl on a bottom shelf so that it cannot drip onto anything else) or on a plate, well covered in film, in the kitchen for about four to six hours – more if it is a whole chicken.  Oh yes, and take out the bag from inside, to allow air to circulate.

Rice types:

Basmati rice versus long grain rice versus Thai rice… discuss!

Try them all.  I have.  I like Basmati rice best, but there is not too much difference between them.  The cheapest rice of any type can be found in bulk in ethnically diverse shops.  If you buy it in a big sack, just give it a quick rinse before cooking it as it may be very dusty (the rice, not the sack).

Melting chocolate for a pud using a Bain Marie:

To melt chocolate you’ll need a saucepan of simmering water on a low heat and a bowl of some sort – preferably clear so that you can see if there’s any water left in the saucepan – and the bowl must not touch the bottom of the saucepan or it will get too hot and overcook the chocky.  This method is called a Bain Marie – French for Marie’s bath.  Just don’t use soap.  The chocky is broken into the bowl and it starts to melt.  Butter is often added.  Stir with a wooden spoon.

Picking blackberries from the hedgerow:

It’s so easy to pick blackberries from the hedgerows.  Just turn up with a container and a bad back.

Uh?  A bad back?  Wadjamean?

Well, if you think about it, you are going into the wild country.  Ok, Britain’s not THAT wild, but it is not ‘controlled’.  We go into the countryside, perhaps take our dogs, they have a good sniff about and do their things whilst we pick blackberries.  Nothing wrong there, eh?

So where does Diesel, the big grey Great Dane go for his widdles?

The hedgerow.

He lifts his leg and hey presto, that’s the height of the ‘dog-leg-line’. 

Please make sure that you pick blackberries as though you had a bad back – not bending over to pick the lower ones – the ones that may have been widdled upon by Diesel, the grey Great Dane. Always keep Diesel in mind when picking blackberries – a good reason, uh?

Breadcrumbs:

A number of recipes need breadcrumbs.  Some need fresh breadcrumbs, others need dry breadcrumbs.  If the recipe doesn’t stipulate fresh or dry, use fresh.  Always make more than you need as it is such a phaf to do more if you need further supplies in the middle of cooking.  They can be stored for a short time in the fridge and they can be frozen, but if you freeze them, they will need to be naturally thawed over time, not in the fridge, and even then they will need to be dried out on a baking tray in the oven as well, afterwards.  Best just bin what’s left over and do a fresh batch when you want them.

Here’s what to do:

Fresh breadcrumbs:

Take a couple of slices of bread, pull them apart into smaller bits and drop them into a food processor – see, I told you that you’d need one – and give it a good blitz.  Take the lid off, chivvy them all around with a spatula to get them out of the corners and do it again.  You might need to repeat a couple of times more, as they are moist.  All done.

Dried breadcrumbs:  Put the oven onto gas Mk 3 and put 2 slices of bread on the metal grills.  After 15 mins just turn the oven off.  The oven will dry the slices out.  Don’t allow them to burn.  Do the same thing with the food processor.  All done.

 Blanching Asparagus:

Take your asparagus from the bunch.  Start bending it at the cut end, moving up the stem.  Where it breaks/snaps off is where it’s ok to eat it to.  Anything below that is good to reserve for making soup.

Have a bowl of iced water ready.  Boil the kettle.  Pour the boiling water from the kettle into a large saucepan.  Lightly salt it.  Bring it back to the boil and plunge the asparagus into the boiling water and keep on the high heat for 1 minute.  When 1 minute has expired, use a draining spoon to lift the asparagus out of the pan and plunge it all into the iced water.  You may need to do this in several batches, in which case have fresh iced water ready for each batch.  Use the same boiling water for all batches.  At the end, don’t tip away the hot water; it can be used as the base for the stock of soup.  (Asparagus is too friggin’ expensive to bin any waste – including the blanching water).

De-stoning avocado:

Cut the avocado vertically, around the stone, and twist.  One half will come away readily.  To remove the stone, use a sharp knife and bring the sharp blade down across the stone, in a chopping action.  The knife will stick into the stone.  Turn the knife to the left and right, and the stone will come away like magic.

Root vegetables:

The convention for cooking root vegetables is to start them off in cold water when boiling them.  I have yet to really get a definitive reason why – the people who would be expected to ‘know’ all seem to ‘know’ different reasons – and they are all certain that they are right.  (Yeah, right!)  However, it seems that the consensus of opinion is that the density of root veg is greater and it allows the heat to be absorbed more evenly through the vegetable when starting from cold.  I’ll keep asking.

Keep to the rule – except when you don’t.  I often cheat by popping prepared carrots into the boiling water that the new spuds are in, to save having another pan being heated.  If you only use one pan, you only pay for the energy to heat one pan.

It seems to work.

I have never had any difficulty with it at all.

I’m still alive (physically if not mentally).

Fish:

Pin-boning salmon:

Run your finger ends down the dividing live on the flash side of the fillet and you may feel the ends of the bones.  Try both ways, as the bones are angled.  When you have found them, use either tweezers of something more robust (I used to use a pair of electronics pliers until I bought some posh proper fish bone tweezers!) to take hold of the end of the bone, turn the tool through 180 degrees to ensure that you have a good grip, then yank it out.  Make certain that the tool – whether it be pliers, tweezers or mole-grips – is scrupulously clean beforehand.

Shellfish:

Mussels:

Mussels are alive when you buy them, assuming that you don’t buy these twee plastic vac-packed packets, and you have to prepare and cook them yourself.  It’s quite easy.  Here’s how.

Golden Rules, NEVER to be ignored:

  1. Mussels should be closed tight when they are being prepared. They are living and they should be tight shut as they are being moved.  If one is slightly open, tap it with a knife handle and it should close.  If it doesn’t close, bin it straight away because it’s dead, and you don’t know how long it has been so.
  2. Sometimes you will get a mud mussel. This is where the mussel has died of natural causes in the wild (i.e. been consumed by a sea creature) and the shell has filled up with mud.  The shell may well be closed, but if the two shells are slid across one another, the mud will be exposed.  If it is alive, it won’t shift.  A mud mussel can rather ruin the rest when they’re cooking as the mud seeps out.  If you get a mud mussel, bin it straight away.
  3. After cooking (we’ll get to that bit in a minute – be patient) the mussels should be open. Any that are closed will indicate that they are not to be eaten, bin any closed ones straight away.  Don’t investigate them, just bin them.
  4. REMEMBER – They should be CLOSED before and OPEN after cooking.

If you keep to these rules, you should enjoy every mussel that you eat.

Cooking method:

Take your mussels and chuck them into a cleaned kitchen sink.  There should be no water in the sink.  Take a normal table knife in one hand and a mussel in another.  Look at the underside of the mussel – there may be what looks like seaweed or plant roots hanging out.  Just pull it away,  You may wish to hold this ‘beard’ between your thumb and the knife to gain a little more purchase to pull it away properly.  Don’t be too pernickety, it is not earth-shattering if the last little bit won’t come away.  Check over the shell and scrape off any barnacles (they look like shell-covered zits) into the sink.   The mussel shell may be dirty, but don’t worry about that at this time.  Ensure that it is firmly closed (Rule 1), try to slide one shell across the other (Rule 2) and if all is ok, put the mussel into a bowl and pick up the next one.  I spend about 2 or 3 seconds on each mussel, so you will get quicker (or you’ll starve at the kitchen sink to be found days later, haggard and under-nourished, slouched over the draining board mentioning something about “I will de-beard this bugger if it kills me….”). 

When all of the mussels are de-bearded and de-barnacled, rinse all of the mussels under running water, twice, then drain all the water away.  Twice.  Do not leave them sitting in water because they don’t like it and they will die en mass.

Put a large pan onto the stove and put a high heat under it.  Splash a tiny bit of water (or white wine) into it.  Drain the mussels again and then put them into the pan, putting the lid straight on.  Rinse out the bowl, as you’ll need to put the cooked mussels back in there in a few minutes.  After a minute, shake the pan vigorously, to move the opening mussels around.  Have a quick peek – some of them should be gaping by now.  Replace the lid.  Give another shake.  Another minute, another shake, another peek.  You can use a big wooden spoon to chivvy them around a bit.  Another shake, another peek.  It may take 3 mins, it may take 5.   When they appear to be all open, tip the whole lot, including the juices, into the bowl.  As the mussels have opened, they will now take up more room in the bowl – it’d better be a big one.

If you need the juices, drain them off into a separate bowl.

The mussels are now cooked.

If you are making Moules Mariniere, the cooking will be slightly different as wine and shallots are involved.

Moules Carbonara involves bacon.

Moules a la Crème involves cream.

Moules Roquefort involves blue cheese.

The above is the simple way to cook mussels so that they can be removed (evicted, I suppose) from their shells so that we can do something else with them.

Take a mussel shell, now gaping open, in one hand and pick out the mussel with the other, dropping the mussel into another, much smaller bowl.  Don’t force the shell open as you are now going to transfer that shell to the other hand and you’ll use it as pincers to take the other mussels from their shells, dropping them all into the little bowl.  Well, I say ‘all’, I actually mean ‘all that you don’t eat as you take them from their shells as they look so nice and taste so lovely’.

One kg of mussels makes a good meal for one if you are as piggy for them as I am.  Half would make a good lunch, with accompaniments.  1 kg would make three starters.

Don’t leave discarded, empty mussel shells in your house overnight.  They deteriorate rapidly and may well stink the place out by morning, even if they are supposedly sealed in the bin.  Get them into the dustbin or wheelie bin.  If you have foxes in your area, put the mussel shells out of their way, inside something they cannot access.

Organising cupboards:

Buy (obtain) some plastic baskets that will slide into your upper cupboards so that you can still close the doors fully.  This way, when you want a certain type of herb, you go to the herbs basket.  Spices can be kept in the spice basket and sweet ingredients can be kept in the sweet basket.  In the lower cupboards you can have all your sauces and pickles in different baskets.  It may sound a little anally-retentive to you, but it is more space-efficient and would mean that you would be able to find things more quickly and more easily.

Keeping fresh herbs for cooking:

I am an absolute nutter for fresh herbs; they make such a difference to the end result on the plate.  But which herbs go with what foods?

Basil:  Part of the mint family (I was surprised to learn); it is a natural with tomatoes, beans, peppers, aubergines, salads, etc.  Get it from the supermarket already growing and keep it in a pot on the windowsill.

Chives:  Part of the onion family; snipped off with scissors, the long leaves go well with potatoes, omelettes, fish, soups, salads, sauces and salads.  They have a very delicate flavour, so never actually cook them.  A really nice idea is chive mash, the chives being snipped into the creamy mash and then stirred in.  Chives grow well in a pot outside and survive from one year to the next.

Coriander leaf:  Lots of uses in Asian and Latin American cooking.  Coriander goes well with rice, sweetcorn, fish, cucumber, avocados and things.  Get it from the supermarket already growing and keep it in a pot on the windowsill.

Parsley:  This is THE herb; the most widely cultivated herb in Europe.  It combines well with other herbs – which is why it is the base for just about all variations of ‘mixed herbs’ and it lifts so many culinary flavours that it is so incredibly useful.  However, it is ‘an annual’, so it dies off in the winter to return the following year from seeds of the previous year’s plant.  Sometimes it can be kept over winter but tends to grow a darker green and a funny shape the next year.  I prefer to use new plants each year.  It also has a couple of major variants; flat-leafed and curly-leafed.  I use both.  Use whichever one you can get or grow.  In the winter, get it from the supermarket already growing and keep it in a pot on the windowsill, but most certainly grow it yourself when you can, as it is so useful that you’d spend a lot on buying it during the whole year.

Mint:  Wonderful mint.  Minted peas are lovely, minted lamb is just gorgeous – and minted new spuds are simply the best.  It’s also great with carrots, aubergines and in salads.  Unlike most herbs, mint is also useful on desserts – a few tiny sprigs on cold sweets give a beautiful finishing touch.

It grows so well in the UK that once you have mint in your garden, you have always got it.  Mint grows like a weed, by running root.  If you don’t want mint taking over your garden, either don’t put a mint root in, or plant it in a very wide, bottomless bucket, plastic plant pot, or a plastic pipe of some sort.  It has a shallow root, so the plant pot will limit its travel through the ground.  It is a perennial, so it will die back when it gets cold and you will be devoid of mint during the winter months.  It will, however, return with gusto in the spring.

Rosemary:  The strong one.  One of the flavours of the Mediterranean, it’s about as subtle as a jumbo-jet, or a housebrick through a window.  This is a full-on herb.  Use it with lamb, pork, veal, breads, poultry, game, stews, stuffings and sausages.

What a super-useful herb this is – and it doesn’t diminish much with cooking either.  The stronger, thicker stems are very woody and so they can be used as super-flavouring skewers for kebabs when barbecuing, or simply tear a few big sprigs off the bush and throw them onto the charcoal to give the meat (and the atmosphere) a rosemary lift.

Thyme:  The other herb of the Mediterranean, thyme is also a strong herb, withstanding cooking very well.  It is great with all meats, accompanies well when alcohol is used in cooking and sits beautifully in almost all French cookery, especially the more robust culinary delights.

It is wonderful with all pulses, onions, mushrooms, cabbage type veg, carrots – in fact it is second only to parsley as a great all-rounder – it even peps-up the flavour of other herbs to a degree.  A perennial, like mint, it comes back each year but is missing in the winter.  The supermarket potted thyme is good when you first use it, but afterwards it is so tender and susceptible to draughts and temperature that it often goes brown on the edges and becomes unusable. Buy it, cut it, use it, store the rest in the salad compartment of the fridge and use it quickly as it will spoil quickly.  When it’s available in the garden, use it readily.  I have to say that we are really lucky to spend a good amount of time in France where it grows wild, and walking over a Garrigue  hillside of thyme, rosemary and fennel growing wild is just something else for the nostrils.  Wow!

Sage: This soft-leaved plant grows readily in the UK and the leaves often survive the winter, but the fresh, new leaves are the best to use.  TV chefs have started frying sage leaves as an accompaniment to their dishes, but personally I don’t like it that way.  Use sage with fatty foods to reduce the influence of the grease on the digestive system.  Pork, duck, goose, etc are very often cooked with sage.  The leaves deteriorate very quickly after being removed from the plant.  I don’t use sage an awful lot, but when it’s used, it is used to good effect.

Why not look ‘em up y’self!

http://ag.udel.edu/extension/fnutri/pdf/cookingguide/fnf-13.pdf

Cheeses:

Edam cheese:  Don’t try toasting Edam cheese as it doesn’t readily melt, due to its low fat content.  Of course, having a low fat content means that it’s the ideal cheese if you are on a diet.

Need more cheeses for specific purposes

Cooking Mushrooms:

A lovely way to cook mushrooms – especially for a filling for an omelette – is to butter-fry them on a low, then a high heat.  Butter burns at a high heat, but if the mushrooms have already absorbed the butter, the burning doesn’t seem to occur.

So, put some sliced mushrooms of whatever type (a mixture of all types is best, to my mind) in a frying pan and melt the butter slowly so that the mushrooms absorb it all.  They’ll need to be chivvied-about until they have done so.  Then, when the pan is fairly dry, whack the heat up to full, open the windows, turn on the cooker hood and give ‘em some wellie.  They need to sizzle’n’pop, fry’n’frazzle.  When the smoke in the kitchen is so thick that you can’t see the pan, they’re done . . . . . . ok, perhaps not quite so much as that because the firemen will be shouting NEE-NAH on their way to you by that time, and the muggies will be buggered, but you know what I mean.  Fry them until they have a texture to them and almost all moisture in the pan has come and gone away again, intensifying their flavours.  Add salt & black pepper and they’ll be soooperb.  Taste ‘em.  You’ll know when they’re done.

Making flavoursome ‘whatevers’.

By ‘whatevers’, I mean accompanying basics, like spuds, rice, couscous, etc.

There are many things that you can do to make plain things more interesting and more impressive.

Take whole grain mustard, for instance.  Stir a few teaspoons of whole grain mustard (not English, French or Dijon) into rice and you have a different look, a different taste and an altogether different presentation.  Spoon the middle out of a baked spud, crush it with a fork, mix the mustard with that and put it back into the skins – hey presto, a much more interesting spud to go with your meal focus (your meat, or whatever you’ve got).

  • Try well-fried onions mixed in with mashed spud or rice.
  • Try fresh herbs freshly chopped and stirred in – be careful not to put in too much fresh coriander though.
  • Dried herbs? (Careful here!  Some dried herbs can be quite hard, especially herbs like rosemary, causing a problem with texture).
  • What about some curry powder or tikka masala paste?
  • Toast some pine nuts and mix them in (refer to toasting nuts in this section).

 Rolling pin:

If you don’t have one and you need to use one, substitute it with a 2 litre bottle of lemonade/cola/fizzy drink (full and refrigerated) with the label removed and the bottle cleaned thoroughly.  The bottle needs to be very hard; i.e. not opened for a couple of days prior to use.  Not perfect, but better than nothing.

Kitchen foil – Aluminium foil:

This is available as single thickness and as double thickness folded.  Normally, a single thickness width is fine, but if you are roasting a turkey you may need the double width.  Don’t use the double width one when you don’t need to – that would be a silly waste.

Kitchen Scissors:

Good big ones with long blades are the order of the day.  Don’t get cheap, thin-bladed ones as they won’t be stiff enough for the job and you won’t find them comfortable to use either.

Sterilising jars for chutney, etc.:

Home-made chutneys are great.  They use up things like green tomatoes at the end of the season, plums when they’ve gone too soft and squidgy to eat, a glut of beetroot, capsicum peppers that are going cheap on the market, etc.  Unfortunately, they also use jars.  We cadge jars from all sorts of places as my nearest-and-dearest likes to give chutneys and similar things as Chrissy-pressies.  As I type, today, this year’s tally tops a hundred jars.  Whilst you can buy jars with lids on the net, cadging them is the cheaper and therefore more preferable option.

If we were making jam, we’d need to make sure that the jars we use hadn’t previously contained anything vinegary as the vinegar can affect the lids and thus spoil the jam; however, as chutney is vinegary, we use ‘em all.  But they don’t just need to be clean – they need to be thoroughly cleaned and steamed.

It’s easy, though.  Bung ‘em in the dishwasher and put it onto the highest and longest wash cycle – same cycle as when doing the whole-Sammy-salmon-in-the-dishwasher recipe; but not at the same time as the jars must have the detergent and Sammy must not.  Lids as well.  Put the lids into the plate slots to keep them in place and so that they don’t get thrown around amongst the jets of piping hot water.

When the cycle has finished the jars will be clean and just about dry, but the lids may need a quick wipe with a clean and freshly laundered tea towel or glass cloth.  The filling (using a chutney funnel if you have loads to do, or just a spoon) of the jars with the almost boiling chutney should start immediately, as the freshly closed jars will then cool and the resultant lowering of air pressure within the jars will pop the security tit on the lid down, sealing out any air and bacteria.

Caustic Soda Trick:

If you buy anything used and it needs to be cleaned, use the caustic soda crystals that you can buy from DIY stores.  Use it carefully as this stuff is quite nasty, but soaking the offending article in a strong solution does a great deal for removing burnt-on residue.  Leave it to soak, possibly topping up the mixture now and again and it will shift all but the very greatest burnt-on food.

Sterilising Solution trick:

Using a sterilising solution that you can buy from Savers (a cheap shop that does a good job) can take the stains out of cups and mugs.  Just a quick squeeze into a full mug of hot water and ten minutes later there’ll be no stains.  Wash thoroughly after.

Of course, when that mugful has done its work, pour it into the next one…. Then the next… then…  It should clean about half a dozen with one squeeze.

Stick with me – I’m a card-carrying professional cheapskate!

Delia-online:

You will have realised by now that I am a big Delia fan.  I really do think that she has ddone so much for the British public so far as cooking is concerned.  Well, she ain’t dun yet!

Dee has a section of her website that is entitled “How To Cook” and I think that you could do a great deal worse than to have a look at it.  It’s all there; just about anything that you would wish to know about items or processes culinary.  No, I don’t think that you should access Delia-online instead of this book……no, you should let them complement each other.  Anyway, the proceeds of this book are going to support a hospice and a cancer charity!

Have a good look through all of Delia-online; it is worth a good trawl because the advice is sound.  Well done Auntie Dee.

  1. MAKING BASICS:

Delia’s Perfect Rice:

If there’s one thing that you should learn, it’s how Aunty Delia (aka Saint Delia) cooks rice.  It’s specific, accurate, to the point.  No messing about at all.  Just follow her recipe and nothing will go wrong.  It just won’t.

I have used the method hundreds of times and never (not even once) been disappointed.  I dunno how she came up with it, but it is 100% reliable.

It’s probably as reliable as 2015 following 2014 (assuming that the Mayans don’t get their way).  Here it is:

Delia’s Perfect Rice:

Ingredients for two people:

Long grain white rice measured to the 5 fluid ounce level in a glass measuring jug.

Boiling water or stock measured to the 10 fluid ounce level in a glass measuring jug. (In other words, twice as much volume of liquid as volume of rice).

1 dessertspoon oil, or ½ ounce (10g) butter.

Salt.

Equipment:

One small, solid based saucepan or flameproof casserole and a shallow serving dish, warmed.

Method:

Begin by heating the oil or butter gently, just to the melting stage, then add the rice and, using a wooden spoon, stir the grains to get them all coated and glistening with fat.

Now add the boiling stock or water and salt, stir just once as the liquid comes up to the simmering point, then put on a tight-fitting lid.  Turn the heat down to the gentlest simmer – then go away and leave it completely alone.  Don’t take the lid off (no, not even a sneaky peeky…) and, above all, don’t stir it.

After exactly 15 minutes for white rice types, I give you permission to have a look and test a few grains.  If they’re tender and, when you tilt the pan almost on its side you can see no trace of liquid left, the rice is cooked.

Now tip it out into a warmed serving dish, using a rubber spatula to dislodge any grains that refuse to leave the base.  Lightly fluff the grains with a skewer.

Serve immediately.

So there we are.

That is her perfect way to cook white rice.

It will work.

Quite simply, it will work.

There are variations on the basic theme included in her ‘complete’ book, so that book should be on the top of your MUST HAVE list.  How about taking the old and battered version (pardon the pun) as Mummy replaces it with a new and pristine copy!

Ta muchly for the permission to refer to your publications, Auntie Dee; but sorry, I still can’t find it in me to understand your incredible passion for football – whatever the team!

 Saffron rice:

Follow Delia’s Perfect Rice, but put a pinch of saffron (available from health food shops, town markets, ethnically diverse shops) into the water & rice at the start of the cooking, giving just a gentle stir before putting the lid on the pan.  Varying the amount of saffron will give you different grades of colour – but you will be really surprised at how much colour and flavour a small pinch gives.  Experiment.  I have to say that I think it looks great to serve Saffron rice with a light sauced meat or fish dish.  Saffron is generally regarded to be more valuable, weight for weight, than gold.  The strands are individual bits from the middle of the crocus flower and there are about 250,000 strands to a kilogram.  No wonder it’s expensive.  Good job that not a lot is needed.  However, it can be bought in very small quantities for not too much.  Well worth the effort, I can tell you.  Do it.

Basic Roast potatoes:

Peel your spuds, cut into pieces no thicker in any direction that 25mm (1”) and pop them into salted (half a teaspoonful) cold water in a pan.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 mins.  Drain the water (retaining the water for making a stock, gravy or soup) and put the spuds back into the saucepan.  Put on the lid and shake the pan vigorously for 30 seconds.  When you take the lid off, the spuds should look a little fuzzy (so would you if you’d been through the same experience!)  as if their outlines have softened somewhat.  That’s great!  Season them well (perhaps a little garlic salt and/or herb salt….. no , that’s wrong…. make it quite a bit of  garl……) and then pop them into a roasting tin and add oil/fat, whatever you have got.  The best is duck or goose fat, but you probably won’t have that.  Stick ‘em in the oven at 200C until they look gorgeous; probably up to an hour, I suppose.  You might like to just give them a bit of a chivvy-about (a mix up to spread the fats more evenly) after about 10 mins and all the fuzzy bits will crisp up a treat.

 Mince basic mixture 1: (aka Beef Mince’n’Onion Thingymebob)

A basic mince & onion mixture for use in both Lasagne and Bolognese as it is now, and it will also be suitable for serving with baked spuds; it can be spiced up for couscous or given an amount of lemon grass and served with white rice.  It is also ready to be used as the filling for Cottage pie and can be used for Cottage Skins.  Useful little recipe, this one.

Prep:           10 mins.

Cooking:      40 mins.      

Course:        Snack/Lunch/Main/Part of any of them

Serves:        4    

Rating:         3:  Moderate

(Base mixture for Lasagne, Bolognese sauce, etc.)

Find:

  • Small pack beef mince (400g)
  • Onion
  • 1 carrot (size as you wish)
  • ½ a green pepper (or could be other colour)
  • 1 or 2 cloves crushed/chopped garlic
  • 1 can tomatoes
  • Tomato puree
  • Oil
  • Seasoning
  • Optional – 100g chopped bacon bits (streaky is nice)
  • Optional – Red wine if you have it

Method:

Break up the mince with a fork into a lightly oiled pan and fry over a high heat to colour the meat.  It will produce an amount of fat which should be poured off and dealt with as elsewhere in this chapter – don’t just discard it!  Turn the pan down to a medium heat.  Chop the onion, carrot, bacon, pepper and garlic finely and soften with the mince for 5 mins.  Add a can of tomatoes, pour in a glass or so of red wine and a good squeeze or dollop of tomato puree.  Season well with black pepper as the tomatoes will certainly benefit from it.  Leave the salt until you taste it later – the bacon will add a certain amount.

Put the pan onto the lowest heat, lodge a lid half-way on and just simmer for about 30 mins, stirring occasionally.  Season the mixture to taste.

Mince basic mixture 2: (aka Lamb Mince’n’Onion Thingymebob)

Same as basic mixture 1, but using lamb mince.  Use it for Shepherd’s Pie, baked spuds, etc.  Use rosemary and thyme as accompanying herbs.

Assembling a basic salad:

Salads are all about assembly.  There are warm salads and cold salads.

Most salads that we immediately think of as salads are cold salads and have a basis of leaves.  Lettuce, rocket, lambs lettuce, water cress….. all leafy items.  But a good tomato salad is a joy to behold!  So, salads can be assembled from almost anything salad-like.

  • Leafy: Take romaine lettuce (a cos type, with crisp, elongated leaves) and simply shred across the leafy end of the whole lettuce.  Shred red pepper, thinly slice spring onions or red onions (or red spring onions…), dice some cucumber (peeled, or with its coat on) and irregularly cut tomatoes so that they are unrecognisable as anything like tomato shape.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and then mix it all up.  That could be your base onto which you can add whatever you want.  Cold rashers of crispy fried bacon?  Chucky chunks?  Tuna?
  • Tomato: Take a few tomatoes and either slice them thinly and lay them neatly into a dish, or chop them haphazardly and chuck ‘em into a dish, very finely slice some red onion and put that in, and add some sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  Tear up some fresh basil leaves and throw those in.  No, you need more basil than that!  Also, don’t be tempted to cut basil – always tear it (Yes, it does make a difference!).  Mix it all up (or for the neat version, make your dressing separately so that the neat tomato layout can stay neat.)
  • Bean: Open a can of red kidney beans/bean assortment and rinse the contents thoroughly, several times.  Trim the ends off thin French beans and boil for ten to twelve minutes.  Mix the two together and bung ‘em in a bowl.  There are cans of many different beans available too; be adventurous.
  • Variations: Use leafy herbs like parsley, basil & thyme as well as lettuce in the leaf mix.  Use nuts to add a crunchy texture (shell ‘em first otherwise you’ll break y’teeth!).  Toasted pine nuts are good, as are walnuts.  Roast aubergines and place slices or strips on the salad.  Sliced mushrooms are brilliant – even the good ol’ field button mushroom does a great job.  Is it attractive enough?  How about using flowers in there?  You can use flowers of squash plants like courgettes, etc, Nasturtiums, chive flowers, lavender,… the list goes on.
  • There are recognised salads like Waldorf and Niçoise – hundreds of ‘em; so look ‘em up on the Net. There is simply no point me sitting here typing ‘em in when they are so available.

Whole books have been written on assembling salads…… yawn!

Basic Sauces:

Delia has a section on sauces in her ‘Complete’ book.  Use that book and you’ll be fine.  However, here’s the basic info on a normal milk-based white sauce.

White Sauce is normally made by using a roux.

What’s a roux? I hear you ask. 

Here’s the answer – just the process; no specifics yet:

Put oil & butter (or maybe just oil) into a saucepan on a low heat, warming it slightly and adding plain flour bit by bit, mixing with a wooden spoon so that the warmed oil & butter becomes absorbed by the flour.  Cook for a minute or so, still on a low heat, stirring it all the time.  It must not become coloured.  You’re making a ‘roux’ – as in kanga.

Kanga-roux… get it?  Oh, never mind – just keep breathing.

Take the saucepan off the heat and add milk slowly so that each splosh of milk becomes absorbed into the roux as you stir it in before the next splosh arrives.  Continue until you have no sploshes left.  Keep stirring.  It should develop into a nice, creamy smooth sauce.  It’ll need cooking on a low heat for another 6 or 7 minutes.

However, you can make a nice, creamy, lump-free sauce without all that friggin’ about, just do it St Delia’s ‘Easy’ way, using her ingenious all-in-one method of making a wonderful white sauce. 

(Ta again, ol’ chuck).

Find:-

40g butter

25g plain flour

425ml cold milk

Salt & pepper

Place all the ingredients into a saucepan.  Put the saucepan on a medium heat and whisk until the sauce starts to bubble and thicken.  Then stir with a wooden spoon to get right into the corners of the pan and whisk again thoroughly.  Turn the heat down as low as possible and cook the sauce gently for 6 minutes.

Why use any other method?

Cheese Sauce:

Simply (and gradually) stir grated cheddar/Leicester/whatever cheese you want to use into the white sauce.

Cook-in Sauces:

The range of easy to buy cook-in sauces available in supermarkets these days is nothing short of incredible.  Some, however, are quite costly.  With a little imagination you can cut the cost substantially and produce good and tasty cook-in sauces that will keep you alive, keep you healthy and possibly even impress your friends/parents so much that they learn from you!

(Ok, it may not be very probable….. but’s POSSIBLE!)

 Cheap tomato cook-in sauce:

6 to 10 servings.  The excess will freeze well.

Find:-

  • 1 can (400g size) economy plum tomatoes
  • 50g concentrated tomato puree
  • 1 can (400g size) economy baked beans
  • 1 or 2 large onions
  • 200g mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • Garlic cloves to taste (1, 2 or 3)

Method:

Seasoning note; this sauce needs a good amount (that means ‘lots’) of black pepper – careful with the salt as you’re using baked beans.

  • Chop the onions into medium to small sized pieces and sweat off in a little oil & butter mixture on quite a low heat using a large frying pan, together with the crushed or finely chopped garlic.
  • Let the onions become translucent before adding the mushrooms. Turn off the heat.
  • Open the tins and pour the juice off into a cup. Put aside for now.
  • Place the tinned tomatoes, beans and the tomato puree into a food processor/liquidiser and whiz until smooth. (Alternatively, place all – including the juice – into a bowl and crush with a large fork, to make a thick and smooth paste).
  • Add the drained-off liquid from the cup and mix thoroughly.
  • Add the smooth tomato mixture to the onion mixture in the frying pan and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring gently, being careful not to break up the mushrooms.
  • Season well (it needs a good amount, mostly pepper).
  • Pour over meat (which has been previously browned in a hot frying pan and placed into) an oven dish.
  • Cover and cook as the recipe asks (or for 20 mins). The sauce will cook through with the meat.

Basic Croutons:

These are simply bits of bread, gently/lightly fried in oil.  For soup, they can be cubes of bread, using just the crumb, not the crust, or slices of French bread; it’s your choice.  For other dishes, they may even be just torn into mis-shapes, again without the crust.  I try to make sure that the bread is quite hard before I make croutons, unless they are to be of the torn variety, in which case the bread needs to be fresher.

If you are health freak or simply need to have a low-fat diet, oven bake the croutons.

Fancy Croutons:

Cut them out with a shaped cutter.  Star.  Square.  Elephant.   Parking Attendant.  NOT POLITICIAN, because that would be SILLY!

Basic breadcrumbs:

Put stale bread into a food processor and blitz ‘em.  For fresh breadcrumbs, use them as is now.  For dried breadcrumbs, oven bake ‘em for a while.

Making soups:

Basic Soup:

Soups are great for making the pennies go a bit further, they allow left-over veg to be converted into un-leftover, tasty meals.  Consider these suggestions that can be made from bits left in plastic boxes from the fridge:

  • You have some boiled potatoes, some Brussels sprouts, a few carrots and a chicken drumstick.
  • Take all the flesh off the drumstick (careful to avoid using the gristle/cartilage), chop it quite small and fry it with a sliced onion.
  • Really hard-fry the chicken before putting the onion in so that the chicken is quite brown.
  • Put in the veg and keep frying in a hot pan. If you have any wine, pop that in with a mug of stock made with two chicken stock cubes; it’ll go shushhhhhhhhhhhh as it all goes in – don’t worry, you’s now a’cookin’ proper loike. Boil it all up for a mo or two.
  • Now get that ‘in-the-saucepan-hand-blender’ that you invested in. Take the pan off the heat and place it on a wet dishcloth spread on the kitchen surface to stop it skating about all over the place – a safety measure.  That’s right, if you’re right handed you put the handle to your left so that you can put the hand blender in your right hand and hold the saucepan at the same time.  Clever, eh?
  • Now blend it all together so that it’s a smooth soup.
  • Consistency: It might be too thick, in which case add water (or more white wine); it might be too thin, in which case you can reduce it a little by boiling it rapidly a bit more.

Taste it.  If it’s just for your consumption you can dip your spoon in and out as many times as you like; if it’s for you and others, always use a clean spoon each and every time you taste – you don’t want to give anyone else your germs now, do you.

Frozen Soup Bowl Trick:

If you have made a great big saucepan/stockpot of this gorgeous soup that you will not need immediately, put the Frozen Bowl Trick into operation.  Allow the soup to cool a bit and then pour it into plastic food bags that are placed, open, in soup bowls.  Don’t close the bags.  The bowls can then be frozen – but keep them level in the freezer, perhaps on a tray.  The following day, when fully solid, they can be taken from the freezer and floated in a sink of hot water, this allows the bag to come away from the bowl and the frozen bowl-shaped lumps of soup-in-a-bag can then be tied up and popped into a supermarket plastic carrier bag suitably labelled and put back into the freezer.  Wash the bowls and you then have individual portions of a delicious soup ready in the freezer – and you don’t have redundant bowls sitting in the freezer with the soup…. Clever, eh?.  You can get out as many as you wish, when you wish, put back into a bowl.  Give each one a couple of minutes in the microwave oven and ‘hey presto’, fast food that doesn’t come with a health warning or a need to open the wallet.

Basic Mashed spuds:

Mash is simple.  Boil, drain, mash, serve.   Basically, that’s it.

But let’s make sure that you are given the best ways to do it.

  • Peel your spuds with a peeler, not a knife; you’ll take off so much more spud with a knife.
  • Old spuds mash much better than new ones.
  • Put spuds into a saucepan (preferably not non-stick, as you’ll be using it to mash them in – and if you use a metal masher, you’ll get black slivers of non-stick coating in the spuds…. not very nice), using enough cold water to cover them, add some salt – that’s not a teaspoonful or even half. Try a quarter.
  • Put the saucepan onto a high heat. When the water has boiled, turn down to a low boil, so that the water is just disturbed constantly (not as high as a bubbling witch’s cauldron).  Time for 20+ minutes.  Drain well.
  • Use a masher to mash the spuds, not just a fork. Not just the centre of the pan, go around all of the edge to get all of the spuds.  You do not want lumps.  Ensure that all are thoroughly mashed before you……..
  • Add a knob of butter and some milk – just a splash.

A knob = as much as you can get away with considering pennies, cholesterol, calories, butter availability, etc.

  • Mash again, ensuring that the butter & milk are evenly spread throughout the mash.
  • There you are: Mashed spuds.
  • But can you improve on just mashed spuds? Sure!
  • Add a spoonful of whole grain mustard?
  • How about fried, finely chopped red onion and garlic? (YUM! Certainly a favourite of mine).
  • A really big heap of chopped fresh parsley/thyme/basil?
  • How about Nigella seed? (It’s an onion seed that tastes nice)
  • A sprinkling of simple dried mixed herbs, or dried basil, or dried thyme?
  • Crème fresh?
  • Greek yoghurt?
  • I’m sure that you can think of others. Mash shouldn’t be just ‘mash’, it can be much, much more.

 Basic savoury crumble:  In a large bowl, mix together flour, oats, nuts, seasoning (of which it will be in great need) and the dried herbs.   Chuck in the butter/marg and fork it over.  The idea is for any crumble mix – sweet or savoury – to resemble breadcrumbs.  Use your fingers to ensure that it is all rubbed in very well.

Gently sprinkle the crumble mix on top of contents of the dish.  Be very gentle – don’t press down.  Level it out using a fork very lightly.  If you have any butter left over, a few scrapes or slivers of butter dotted over the top of the crumble mixture adds to visual appeal.

Basic sweet crumble:  In a large bowl, mix together flour and the butter/marg and fork it over, then use your hands so that it all resembles breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle brown sugar or caster sugar into the mix and stir. Gently sprinkle the crumble mix on top of contents of the dish.  Be very gentle – don’t press down.  Level it out using a fork very lightly.  Sprinkle Demerara sugar on top.  If you have any butter left over, a few scrapes or slivers of butter dotted over the top of the crumble mixture adds to visual appeal.

Apple crumble:

Find:-

  • 3 large cooking apples – Bramley apples always seem to be the best, but use what you have. Fallen apples are free – low cost pud coming up.
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 25g Demerara sugar
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 100g plain flour
  • 50g margarine or butter (quite cold, cut up into little bits so that it makes the mixing easier

Method:

  • Peel and core the apples, slice them roughly and put into a saucepan adding about a third of the sugar. Heat and stir.  There will be some juice appear, just keep stirring.  If looks dry in there, add just a tiny splosh of water just to get things kicking off.  Soon it should be fairly liquid.  Just turn it off and leave it sitting with a lid on.
  • Put the flour in the bowl, add the marg or butter and fork through for a start, and then use your fingers. Rub it all together between your fingers – remember that you’re looking for it to resemble breadcrumbs.  Stir the sugar into the crumble.
  • Put the partly cooked apple into an oven-proof dish of some sort, making sure that there is at least 10mm between the level of the apple and the lip of the dish. Spread it out evenly.
  • Spoon the crumble mixture over the apple, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the Demerara sugar over the top of the crumble mixture.
  • Bake in the oven gas 5 for 30 to 45 mins, according to how you want it to look. Serve with custard.

Unusual mince pies:

Jamie Oliver did something nice with some very unusual Xmas mince pies on telly.  I have just used part of the same method for chestnut rolls – they came out of the oven just a few minutes ago!

  • I unrolled a sheet of ready rolled-out puff pastry onto a floured surface, lightly spread it with butter and liberally spread it with about a pound (possibly more) of chestnuts that had been boiled in water for an hour and the scraped out of their shells with a teaspoon.
  • I seasoned the chestnuts quite heavily with salt and freshly ground black pepper and then rolled it all up from the side, like a roly-poly or a swiss roll.
  • I trimmed the ends off and cut slices, laying them down onto a traythat was covered with oiled greaseproof paper, drizzled a little walnut oil on them all and baked them for 30 mins in 160C oven.
  • I didn’t leave enough space between them so the pastry was a little underdone on the central ones whilst the outer ones were well-baked, so leave a good amount of space between them on the tray as they puff up quite a bit .

I tried a couple as they came out of the oven and they were lovely – and the empty plate is sitting in front of me now.  Tempting me…….

I’m off to get another one!

NOTE:  Puff pastry needs to be eaten when warm.  Cold puff pastry items can taste clammy and claggy – not nice.

  1. COOKING PROCESSES:

Boiling:

Very simply, boiling is just having the food immersed in boiling water.  Unfortunately, if you boil veg, some of the goodness of the veg is lost into the water and then, if you drain the water into the sink, it is gorn an’lost forever.  Try to use some of your veg water in your gravy or something.  You’re paying for it – use it.  How about using it for the base water of a soup?

Poaching: 

It’s the immersion of something in a stock, liquid or water, to cook, but not necessarily to boil.

A poached egg is cooked in a saucepan of almost boiling water; or to poach fish you put it in the oven in a tray of milk or milk and water, etc.

The other sort of poaching is when you go take pot-shots at local game and have to avoid the gamekeeper – not something to be encouraged as you could get into hot water for it…..

Blanching: 

Blanching is the immersion of vegetables in boiling water for a short while, removing them and then plunging them into iced water to stop the cooking process.  Blanching veg tends to make veg better to freeze and it is a good start to a more complex cooking procedure before, say, baking.  Blanching is best done in a blanching basket but, unless you do a lot of it, don’t go out to buy one.

Reducing: 

When a recipe asks you to ‘reduce down to a cupful’, what it’s actually asking you to do is to keep boiling it (or simmering, preferably, I suppose) until an amount of the water in the stock (or whatever fluid), has evaporated and is thus more concentrated.  Don’t do this with the water that you have boiled a bacon joint in, though, as it will concentrate the saltiness to an incredible degree.  I know; I was that reducer….

(and that comment will go over everyone’s head unless they are old enough to have heard Hank Wassisname’s  record, ‘Deck of Cards’, about two centuries ago….. but there we are – we surviving dinosaurs have had a lot to bear in our lives.)

 Wilting:  Boy!  Do I know the feeling!

Wilting is the low-heat, fast cooking of, say, watercress or spinach.  When spinach is put into a pan containing melted butter, the spinach will wilt and reduce to almost no volume very quickly.

Sometimes the wilting is less dramatic, but wilting is wilting is wilting.

Sauté:

To sauté, the food is gently fried in a fat, often butter, and keeping it moving all the time.  Sautéed new potatoes are boiled/par boiled (part-boiled) first and then gently fried in butter to brown the surface and to give the potatoes a really rich flavour.

‘Sauter’ is the French verb for TO JUMP and signifies that the food should be ‘jumping in the pan’ (kept moving).

They are truly magical when done correctly.

Stir-frying: 

Much oriental cookery is done by stir-frying.  It is a quick and fairly healthy method as the goodness from all of the ingredients is not lost to boiling water.  It is traditionally done in a wok and indeed the wok is the ideal pan for this process, but unless you have a proper wok burner they can be very unstable.  Use a good, wide, deep frying pan with a lid and you’ll not tell the difference – unless, of course, you are Ken Hom.

(He is a famous oriental chef and ‘doer of good woks’, in case you didn’t know – and why should you?).

Shallow frying:   … in fat evaporates the water content of the food where it is immersed and is replaced by the fat (big over-simplification).  It is a process that increases the calorific value of food.  Be careful about your fat intake or you’ll get the size of me – and that would be disastrous.

Deep frying :   …..also evaporates the water content (as above but more) but it has to escape through the fat to the surface making it quite hazardous.  It is best done in a deep-fat fryer.  If you haven’t got one, please don’t fry chips in a deep open pan – these are the source of so many fires; go to the chippie instead.  Most things that can be deep-fried can be shallow fried or grilled – do that instead to keep fat levels down.

Softening:

‘Softening onions’ is an oft used phrase in this little book.  It merely means to cook onions in oil in a pan over a low heat so that they soften in texture but do not colour.  Gentle, low heat frying, really.

Braising: 

Normally, braising involves browning the meat first in a frying pan or similar, and then being put into a stock or liquid to be oven-cooked under a lid.  Braised brisket is gorgeous.  Two or three hours in a low oven – wow.

Roasting: 

Roasting is done in the oven, but usually is done with fats or the item being roasted is producing the fats, like a beef joint.  Normally the oven heat is directly applied to the food as it’s done in an open tin, but sometimes, when  the outside of the food item may get burnt, it may be done under foil first, to be taken off to allow the meat to brown later.

Baking: 

Baking is simply heat without moisture – as roasting but with no fats.

Oven cooking:

Of course, oven cooking is the thing to do if you want to save energy.  You can cook the whole lot in the oven if you want.  Meat, veg, pud – the lot.  Take the cheap ‘Value’ pork chops I mention on page whatever.  Put them into a baking tin, put some suitable veg by the side of them (see Roast Veg) and they can go into a medium hot oven for an hour.  Done.  No saucepans, nothing else needed.  Choose an oven-suitable pud and, as you take out the main course, put in the pud, turn the oven temperature down and your pud can do as you are eating the main.  All done in the good ol’ heat-box.  Vary accordingly.    It saves washing-up, making a mess of the top of the cooker and saves money all at the same time – and it tastes a treat too!

  1. SEASONINGS:

The Taste Test:    

What does it need?

  • If it’s bland, it will benefit from seasoning.
  • Try pepper first – good, coarsely ground black pepper will give it a lift.
  • Still a bit tasteless? Would it benefit from salt?  Use very little.
  • Give it a good stir. No, stir more than that.  So what’s it like now?
  • How about Mick’s Terbs? (See Mixed Herbs). Let’s have a pinch.  Better?  Don’t overdo it.
  • Got any old cheese lying about? A bit of Stilton? Brie? Cheshire?  Camembert? Mousetrap? (No, don’t fetch it from the mousetrap….. that’s what we, in our ‘ouse call plain, cheap cheese y’see – mousetrap cheese….)
  • What about putting in some sweetcorn and whooshing it up again?
  • Ok, let’s try a little salt. A sprinkle not a bucketful.  Better?
  • Does it need more base flavour? How about another stock cube?  Better?

…Sometimes it turns out grotty and ugh – in which case:   “Does the neighbour have a dog?”

If it’s edible, it’s just about soup-able.  Good strong flavours like stilton cheese, bacon, leeks, etc all make good soups.  Look at the soup labels on the ‘soupermarket’ shelves to see the common combinations.  If you have a few potatoes, a leek, a stock cube and an onion, you have a good base for a soup and you won’t go hungry.

Uses of salt in cooking:

Salt is not only a flavour enhancer, it is also a moisture extractor.  Veg like Aubergines have a high water content – they are like a sponge.  Have you felt the weight of a big aubergine?  It just seems un-naturally light in weight, it’s because it is sponge-like and as such, when the moisture content is reduced it fries or roasts much better.  This is done with salt.

Take your aubergine, cut it into whatever shape pieces and place the pieces onto kitchen paper.  Sprinkle salt onto the upper face and then turn each one over.  Sprinkle salt on to the new upper face and place another piece of kitchen paper on top.  Place another plate on top, weight it down with something quite heavy and leave them for an hour to do their own thing.

Upon returning, the kitchen paper will be quite wet.  Bin it.  Wash the aubergine pieces under the cold tap and pat dry with more kitchen roll.  Yes, that’s right – under the cold tap.  Yes, I know; you’ve just reduced the moisture content then you wet it again – but this is not to put the water back in again, it’s simply to wash off the salt.  Yep, I grant you that it sure does sound stoopid – but it’s simply what y’do; just do it. The water doesn’t go back in when you wash it.  Honest.  Trust me – even though I’m no chef!

Frying is the normal cooking process for aubergines, but roasting can also be a good method.  A staple for the veggie people, it is a good veg with a meaty texture, it’s readily available but it can be a bit costly in supermarkets.  Use your local market towards the end of the day – look for the bargains.

5 Baes:  You can buy a mix of red, green, white and black peppercorns and what I think is a type of small nutmeg.  5 different seasonings.  In France and sometimes in the UK they can be labelled 5 baes.  Used instead of just black pepper, using freshly ground 5 baes is very nice.

Dried Mick’s Terbs:  Ah yes, well.  I don’t actually mean Michael’s own personal ‘terbs’ that have been dried, I mean mixed herbs.  Sorry, it’s just habit!

I must take more notice of my counsellor.

  1. Using ‘leftovers’:

Unless you are particularly skilled, at some time you will make more food than is needed.  Anything left over can be classed as ‘leftovers’ (I know, you don’t need a degree in psychology to work that one out) and anything thrown away is a waste.  It wastes food, money and time.  So, what do you do with ten sprouts, a bit of beef casserole and a dollop of mash?

Soup!

All of those can go into one pot, heat it up so that the liquid is evident and then use your hand-held-wand-liquidiser.  If it’s too thick, pop a bit of boiling water in first just to slacken it off.

There are many references to making soup throughout this Tricks’n’Tips section, indeed throughout the book, so go look!

Xmas turkey, ham, cold meats in general:

Cut into strips and lay into leaves of cling film, then freeze.  Don’t put them all together in one lump because you’ll not need to use them all at one time.  Freeze and take out as you need the strips for omelettes, pizzas, etc.

Sausages:

A good sausage casserole is a joy to behold.  A couple of stock cubes, a bit of mash, a leek or an onion and you’re well in.

Pork ribs:

Ok the meat has been stripped, but before you bin the bones, boil ‘em.  Boil the bones and all the grotty bits.  A couple of hours on a slow rolling boil will render the bones down, extracting the base flavour from the marrow.  It will make a really good stock for a gravy or a soup – a casserole or a chilli dish.

Fish:

Fish pie uses poached fish in the recipe, but fried fish can just as easily be used.  Ensure there are no bones and follow the recipe.

Vegetables, including mashed spud.

Soup – once again, soup does the biz.  Lunches can be easy and swift if you have the soup already in bowl-shaped-bags (see Frozen Bowl Trick).  Bless the little ping box!

 

Stir fry those veg!

Meats that you find in the fridge can be cut up and popped into a stir fry, closely followed by the veg.  Don’t be slavish, you can use whatever you like in the stir fry.  Walnut oil, sesame oil or truffle oil will do you a favour by making it all very tasty indeed.

 

Onions that are sprouting in the veg rack:

 

You know how they do.  Sprouting their big green shoots, these onions can be peeled and chopped/shredded and then frozen in a freezer bag.  The same goes for garlic.

  1. Oh bugger – PANIC! Ouch! That’s a common problem.

You’ve put in too much salt!

Ok. That’s a common problem!  Food manufacturers counter over-saltiness by adding sugar.  Try it – it’s buggered anyway so it’s worth a bash.

You’ve cut your finger!

Ouch!  That’s a common problem!  Blunt knives are normally the cause – but what about the solution?  Well, put a plaster on.  Then put another plaster on top of that – and streeeeetcch it so that it’s more secure.  You don’t want to find a plaster in the chicken pie, do you, eh?  No plasters?  Fold kitchen roll into one-inch wide folds and apply that – got any sellotape?  No kitchen roll? – you are in a state, eh?  Use bog roll!  Whatever you use, ensure it stays where it’s put.  Food workers have to use blue plasters so that should a plaster fall into the food it’s more easily spotted.

I’m told they don’t taste any better than skin-coloured ones though.

The gravy/sauce/soup is too runny!

Ah. That’s a common problem!    Easily solved.  Take a mug, pop some cornflour in and mix with cold water.  Add that to the thin gravy/sauce/soup and cook for about 5 mins from boiling.

NO CORNFLOUR?  You in’t doin’ well!  Use normal wheat flour, but don’t add water this time, drop a blob of butter or some spread or other (I can’t believe that some dingbat thinks this stuff tastes anything like butter, or similar product) and mix together, then melt that in the liquid and cook for 5-10 mins to see it thicken a bit.  You may get some white lumps if you’re not careful.

The gravy/sauce/soup is too thick!

Aha. That’s a common problem!    Dilute it down with water, stock or wine – you MUST have at least ONE of those three, yes?

I’ve run out of wine!

Oh deary-deary-me!  That’s a REALLY SERIOUS problem!  Send out for some more!

So, have I given you all of the answers? 

Nah!  O’course not – no-one could; but you’re a dammed sight more clued up now than y’were, that’s a fact!

If what you have been cooking has all fallen to bits and I’ve not given you the answer, well, the best thing I can say is:

Where’s y’local pub?

Go get a bar meal and have a jolly jar or two at the same time.

Well what did you expect me to be able to do – give you culinary superglue?

If everything has gone tits-up this time, put it down to experience (or lack of it) and try again another time.   You’ll succeed; relax.

Have another pint.