Know those basics!

A phrase I keep hearing is “Work with what you’ve got”……It’s a good phrase. It’s one I hang onto with magic, and it’s also one I like nowadays in the kitchen. Wait….kitchen? Magic? Pfft, all the same I’d say! Like magic, there are staples you need, flour, butter, eggs, sugar for that all important cake. And like magic, you don’t necessarily need hideously expensive items to work wonders.

Okay, what sparked this line of thought? I read a post in a cooking community, where someone had run out of salad oil, and wondered if they could use their olive oil in place of it. Now a little bit of research led me to realise that salad oil is a catch-all term for an edible vegetable oil.  And I giggled, partly because I wouldn’t dream of using a “salad” oil, when I have virgin olive oil, but also because it made me realise how I feel about my food. I like to know what’s what – and because I have a tendancy to want to understand it. And boy, does it get complicated these days. We package, name, rename, have different blends for this and that, and completely ignore other foodstuffs, like edible flowers and wobbly gizzard bits. We dry out what doesn’t need to be dried out, we add water to things which are fine as they are, we add salt to sweet things, sugars to savouries, and do all sorts of dispicable things with items intended for the mouth.

But you gotta know the basics too, you gotta know the basics. Otherwise you’re stuck when you want that “salad oil” to drizzle over your salad!

I’ve done it with Moroccan food. I’ve taken the basic knowhow, read up about it, and how it would be cooked in Morocco, what would be served with what, and how herbs and spices would be used, and I can cook a pretty mean tagine these days – with some scrummy salads and sides from my trusty second hand Moroccan cookbook to make a real meal of it. But I can also nip into the kitchen and make something swift and Moroccan inspired, with just a bit of the basic spices that are used in a lot of dishes.

Knowing your basics allows you to do that. To learn the flavours, to fall in love with flavours,  to guage how much to use. By all means I could have bought a Moroccan spice mix, but that would have meant I’d never have used ras al hanout in cream with honey drizzled over strawberries. Or in my coffee. Or in chocolates. A little research goes a long, long way.

I said it’s like magic. It is, and in some ways too, it’s like building relationships with deities, with spirits. You work with them enough, you build up a good, great even, relationship. You’ll learn what’s pleasing, you learn what you’ll never want to be without. And you’ll work with what you’ve got.

Because what you’ve got is what you love.

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Making it up as I go along….

I wasn’t sure what I was going to make for dinner tonight.  But I was about to go out and run an errand, so I thought I’d look to the little supermarket nearby for inspiration.  It doesn’t have that much, and the people in these parts aren’t – generally – that adventurous. If I want orange flower water or ras al hanout (that spice mix is a MUST in this household) I have to travel to Cardiff.

The errand was run, and a lovely day it was too for it, the sun shining, everything bright and green pre-Beltane vibrant. And the best the supermarket held, the only things that called out to me, were a packet of chicken breasts and some reduced (15p a bag) spinach. Hmmm, I thought. And I was hit with a desire to do something with rice and the big fat prawns in the freezer. Had they (or I) had chorizo, I’d have considered paella. He likes his paella with chorizo.  But they didn’t.

So I headed home with my goodies listening to Depeche Mode on my MP3 player and stopping only to watch a pair of buzzards doing a bit of a mating dance high in the sky above our house, and I Got To It.

Some garlic (3 cloves) and a chopped onion went into the pan, shortly followed by the chicken to brown up (shouldn’t that be whiten in the case of chicken?). I put the water on to cook some of those handy easy cook bags of rice. Rice is the one thing I can never get right and sadly I love it so much. So I end up caving in and buying these bags or begging himself to cook it for me.

Anyway, once the chicken was browned, I threw in some mushrooms, the prawns, and let it go a little longer before adding half a packet of garlic and herb cream cheese – Asda’s own, cheap and cheerful. I also added a little slosh of milk so it wasn’t going to be too thick. Then I added a goodly amount of freshly ground pepper, a little sea salt, and a decent grating of nutmeg.

I tasted it.

It was good, but something was missing…something wasn’t quite hitting the spot.

And then, almost without thinking, I reached for the chilli flakes and added some, though, and added some more, and then…just for good measure, a teeny bit more still.

Lastly, in went the spinach, a good couple of handfuls, because it felt like it needed something healthy. And spinach is healthy, right?!

I duly dished it up into a couple of big black bowls, rice underneath, and took it to himself. He enjoyed it. In fact he enjoyed it so much, that I could feel his eyes on me, watching me intently. “Are you going to eat it all?” said he in a somewhat plaintive voice.

Thankfully I was full when he asked that.  And now, following his cleaning out my bowl thoroughly, so is he. I think this one’s another keeper…..

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On cupcakes and pancakes – and no, that’s not a euphemism!

Firstly, I’d like to rant a little. About cupcakes.

There was a news article recently about a cupcake rage, in which a woman, deprived of her favourite cupcake through it being sold out, went mad in a cupcake shop and smashed things up. Great publicity or a great publicity stunt….?

I decided to check out these cupcakes for myself. Sadly they didn’t have the flavour that induced such rage, but I did purchase one of their other special ones. Which I ate following some hearty Argentinian tango class exercise.

And I must say this….

…it was just a cupcake. An overpriced, oversized, puffed up, glittery  fairycake. And I finally decided last night that I don’t get cupcakes. The cake’s okay, but there’s far too much sickly sweet topping, and it’ll likely leave you reeling from a mega sugar rush. It’s not even buttercream. Sure they look very pretty. But what I want first and foremost from cake is TASTE. Not just a sugar confection thing that’s 99% art and fashion. I always fall for their prettiness and always mourn the lack of real flavour.

Curse you, Sex and the City, curse you and the cupcake craze that you spawned. I’ll be over here with my fairy cakes with rose buttercream icing…….

 

In other news, it was Pancake day on Tuesday. And rather than the standard lemon and sugar offerings, I decided to feed himself a savoury dish. So I cooked up some onion, some leek, some pork steaks which I’d chopped up, and some mushroom. A quick addition of a large knob of butter, some flour, and some milk, with added seasoning, including mustard, nutmeg, oh, and a good slug of brandy, and the filling was ready. I’d already whipped up enough pancake mix for two decent sized pancakes, so it was simply a case of cooking them and filling them with the above mix. His pancake was perfect – which is odd, as it was the first. Sadly, the pan got a little too hot, so mine was…ah..slightly more caramelised. Even so, it was good. I’d forgotten how much I love savoury pancakes, and just how easy they are to make….when the pan’s the right temperature, that is! And I forsee a bright and pancakey filled future.

After all, a pancake’s for nommage, not just for pancake day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The post Valentine’s Day It’s So Wrong It’s Right!

Usually we do something for Valentine’s day. This year we were going to nest under a duvet, watch films and eat sushi, drink wine and enjoy.

Except that Himself came down with the lurgy I’d had the previous week, was off sick, and wouldn’t have had the energy to even think about what lovers do on Valentine’s Day.

So I grumbled a bit, decided I was still going to cook him something tasty, and filling, and comfort food, and defrosted the belly pork from Riverford. I covered it in oil, sprinkled salt over it, ground some pepper, and whacked it into the oven a la Hugh FW’s meat book, with a good hot sizzle, and then turned down the temperature. I served it with mashed potato which was heavily mustard flavour, I know he likes that, steamed cabbage, carrots and apples cooked into a chunky sauce with sage, brown sugar and a splash of brandy. It wasn’t my best meal, but the crackling was excellent, the pork was delicious (and I’m not generally a pork fan, if I must have it then it HAS to be organic). And the mash was VERY mustardy. I use a Gunpowder mustard which is fantastic, and I swear by it for all things which need a hint (or more) of mustard.

He enjoyed it greatly despite his lurge, and I was left with mash, cabbage and a few carrots. Oh goody, thought I, bubble and squeak.

Today, however, he went into work, and came home exhausted. I didn’t have enough to simply serve bubble and squeak. Oh bugger, thought I, and rummaged through the fridge. Now, it just so happened that I’d bought a pack of black pudding slices, which I was originally going to serve with the belly pork, but I’d forgotten about it. And thus began the formation of a Cunning Plan.

I swiftly chopped up a leek and started cooking it off with some olive oil in a good frying pan, before flinging in the leftovers, and then boldly chopping up the black pudding into small bits.  And I let it cook, and cook. Because I know he likes the brown crispy bits. And suddenly I realised the enormity of what I’d just created. Black pudding hash. I hadn’t even looked up the recipe – until I googled it just now, I’d not realised it existed! But..hey…internet, everything is out there in one form or another.

I was totally blown away by how easily it worked. It was great! And we both agreed it was a keeper, though next time I’ll likely throw the pudding into the pan first and go from there. But there’ll still be crispy brown bits. There HAS to be crispy brown bits!

 

 

 

 

 

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Like water for chocolate….

I wasn’t born in a kitchen. Nor was I denied marriage to the one I love. But I do share something in common with Tita. My emotions play a strong part in my cooking. If I am angry, I will burn what I’m cooking. If I am happy, if I’m singing and dancing as I move from surface to surface, then somehow whatever I prepare tastes better.  Making cheese scones with love in my heart means they’re going to be really good cheese scones.

I wouldn’t like to say there’s great magic in this. Rather I think a lot of it boils down to practicalities. If you’re happy, you’re more aware of what you’re doing. Your mind is in the moment, and you’ve got your eye on the temperatures, the textures, and your tastebuds are tuned to the subtleties. If you’re angry, then you may be thinking about what has caused that fire inside, and you’re less with the moment. You turn your thoughts away from what you’re doing and lo and behold, it’s all burnt.

So I don’t wish this to be a pure cooking blog, with recipes.  There are enough of those already. Instead I’d like to convey something more, emotions too. Food for thought, if  you will. We follow recipes dilligently, going from step to step to step, yet sometimes we forget why we’re doing what we do.  So often we’re held back by them, forgetting flavours, forgetting that we can add something more to our creations. Be it a different flavour, or a touch that makes it personally ours, or simply a smile as we’re stirring. It all adds up. And people will notice a difference in what we give to them, if we’ve cooked it with a smile. They just won’t notice what that secret ingredient is.

Cook with passion, cook with love – and see what a difference it makes!

 

 

 

 

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