All posts filed under: Mastering the Basics – ABC, or doh, re, mi of cooking

Pastry

– flour, salt, fat, water (sometimes sugar) – Cultures all over the world have teamed-up ground flour with a pinch of salt, some liquid and an animal fat to turn these simple ingredients into a paste that can be rolled and shaped to preference – there are hundreds of different pastry varieties to choose from; from the standard short crust pastry, to choux pastry, filo pastry, millifeuille and puff pastry. The later few are more suited to the master chef than the master cook. Unless you have an army of sous chefs to help you roll and fold your pastry over a dining room table or unless you have lots of time and a particular itch to turn your hand to puff pastry I wouldn’t recommend you engage in these delicious, though fancy pastries. For the purpose of simple home cooking it is perhaps easiest to stick to the basic recipes set out below. From these simple ingredients thousands of different pastry varieties are born and thousands of mouth-watering pies. For savoury pies I like to use lard or …

Cooking Basics: the ABC of our favourite dishes

Every recipe, every dish, every method of cooking food begins with an ABC; a doe, re, mi; a one, two, three. If that sounds infantile that’s because at its basics cooking really can be child’s-play. The only reason we do not entrust cooking to children is because it involves lots of sharp knives and hot stoves. Were it not for that we would probably get our children to cook supper for us more regularly since, at its basic, cooking really does not require anyone to be exceptionally gifted or skilled or wise or have a higher than average IQ. You may find that experience helps – but you only get that once you’ve tried. Most recipes are variations on the basic methods listed below. They crop up time and again, which is why if you’re just starting out it is worth familiarising yourself with some of them and practising them until you feel happy you’ve got the right flavour, taste and texture combination you are comfortable with. If at first you don’t succeed do not …

Knick-knack paddy-whack give the cook a bone – Stock

Basic ingredients – A bone (any bone from any animal will do: chicken, game, veal, beef).   An onion, Carrots. Celery (or leeks). Salt & Pepper. Parsley. Bay leaf . Vinegar. Water– For those who truly want to become a master in their own kitchen begin with a simple bone stock. Bones, like animals fats, impart flavour. Also known as broth or bouillon – stock is pathetically simple to make. So amazingly straight-forward you can not go wrong. You’d have thought that for something that adds so much taste, flavour and pleasure to a dish one would first have to be initiated into some kind of cult, spend years in the desert and perform an amazing acrobatic feat before being deemed worthy enough to learn the secret of how to make an outstanding bone broth. Happily for the everyday cook all you need is a big pot, a bone, water, salt, pepper and some veggies. The reward in terms of taste and nutrition is second to none. Add a stock to any of your savoury dishes and …

Marinades

Basic ingredients: – Olive Oil. Lemon juice or vinegar or cultured milk. Herbs or Spices or both. Salt & pepper. – Marinating meat is an excellent means to improve tenderness and impart flavour. It is pretty effortless and another trick the amateur cook can use regularly to improve the dishes they prepare. Cuts which derive from the part of the animal that have worked the hardest such as shoulder or leg cuts lack both fat and tenderness. These cuts require a lengthy marinade to avoid dryness and toughness. Like stock, marinades are very simple to prepare. For those with a creative bent they can be excellent tool-sets for trying out new flavour combinations. For those less inclined to experiment there are always one or two reliable recipes they can always fall back on. The acid in the marinade works brilliantly at relaxing and tenderising the meat, whilst the natural enzymes in the olive oil will make the meat easier to digest once consumed. The spices will add flavour to the final dish. The fun thing about a …

The best start any stew can get – a mirepoix

Basic ingredients Onion. Celery. Carrots.  The French name this basic, common-place start to a braised stew after an aristocrat the duc de Lévis-Mirepoix to be precise. In Italy it’s called a soffritto. In Spain a sofrito. In Germany it’s known as suppengrün. Every cuisine – British, French, Italian, Spanish, German, British, Chinese, Mexican, Creole – start their stews by gently frying an onion with two or three other aromatics either celery, leeks, carrots, swedes, turnips etc. Why? Because these ingredients impart a unique flavour that enhances any stew be it a meaty lamb hot-pot, a light fish pie or a vegetable bake. Like the stock recipes listed above these steps are simple enough to prepare and the cook is rewarded with a dish packed with natural nutrients and flavour. To get the best results in terms of texture, flavour and nutrients chop the aromatics into small fine pieces. Begin by gently frying the onion in some animal fat until it has softened. When the onion has relaxed and begun to turn transparent add the celery …

Béchamel (or White) Sauce

Basic Ingredients – Butter. Flour. Milk. Salt & Pepper – So many dishes – both savoury and sweet – call for a white sauce. Mixing the flour with melting butter (the roux) can seem tricky at first but once you get the hang of it is fairly straight forward. For best results heat the milk up before adding to the roux. That all said I have often prepared this with unheated milk and it still works though it takes longer for the sauce to thicken. This book is about becoming a master cook not a master chef – so if there are one or two small lumps in the sauce don’t fret!     Begin by melting a large pat of butter over a medium heat. When the butter has turned to liquid add 2-3 tsp. of flour whisking it continuously into the butter. Gradually add around one litre of heated milk whilst continuing to whisk in order to disperse any lumps. If it is hasn’t thickened enough mix another table-spoon or two of either arrow-root or …

Salad Dressing

Basic ingredients Olive Oil. Salt & Pepper. Honey. Begin by pouring a good glug of vinegar into a salad bowl. (If you want to be precise about 2-3 TBS). It is important to add the vinegar first since the flavours from the condiments dilute into the vinegar better than in the oil. Sprinkle salt and the pepper into the vinegar plus some kind of sweetener of your choice – honey, maple-syrup, muscovado sugar. The addition of some sweetness takes the edge out of the vinegar and makes the salad dressing a lot more palatable. In summer add fresh herbs – chives, tarragon, dill, oregano what ever you have to hand. When all the ingredients have been stirred into the vinegar add a good glug of olive oil. Finish by tossing in the salad leaves, cucumbers and tomatoes or whatever vegetable you feel like adding – kidney beans, sweet corn, feta cheese, olives … Feel free to replace the vinegar with lemon juice, yoghurt or sour cream. Add a tea-spoon of mustard if you think it …