Wednesday, November 24, 2004

From scratch

20 minutes. I swear to you – that’s all it took to cook a healthy dinner for three from scratch.

I’m telling you this because I’m sick to death of people who say that they don’t have time to cook. I’m nauseated by people whinging in the press about the difficulties of eating healthily in a modern world…yada, yada, yada. I’m fed up with the health Nazis deciding that it’s time to legislate food and whack taxes on things the state determines is ‘naughty’ to consume because we’re evidently too stupid to make a meal for ourselves.


If you can’t look in the fridge and the pantry without getting some idea of a meal you can create then guess what? You can’t cook.

No, really. You can’t. You have pretty much no idea of the kinds of things that can be reasonably combined to create something that is edible and nutritious.

If you can’t just walk into your kitchen and apply your mind, your dexterity and (probably) a bit of heat to some raw ingredients then you’re missing a rather vital skill.

And that’s just fine. Cooking is a learned skill – like typing or knitting or driving or pretty much anything else you care to name that humans have mastered. No-one is born with some innate idea of what to do with a frypan and an egg. These things are usually gleaned from watching parents but increasingly from media outlets foaming with excitement about some new celebrity chef and THEIR take on lamb roast.

(Roast. All celeb chefs do roast, it’s some unwritten rule. If you’re going to change the world of cooking, you must somehow start with roast, one of the easiest things in the world to make apart from soup. Take ingredients. Prep ingredients…might involve stuffing garlic shards into flesh of meat *gasp - the ingenuity!*…Tumble ingredients onto oven tray. Stick in oven. If you’re feeling particularly precious – baste at intervals. Pull out. Let meat rest. Carve. If you look nice for the camera and add a sprig of rosemary to your concoction you’ll likely be crowned the Next Big Thing and end up rehashing everyone else’s recipes with one ingredient modified in your bestselling book. Me? Cynical? Get outta here!)

You probably also don’t have a well stocked kitchen, which comes with the territory of not knowing how to cook. If you don’t know what to do with flour, spices, legumes, raw vegetables and herbs then you’re not going to buy them. If you don’t have them at home you’re likely not going to experiment with them. Bit of a vicious circle that one.

I love to cook, it’s no secret. What’s also not a secret is the amount of foul things I’ve made along the way when I was just learning. It’s a miracle that M survived the early married years considering the fact that I had a penchant for reducing otherwise serviceable ingredients into something that even a starving dog would have second thoughts about.

I burned, I over salted, I over sugared, I fell in love with certain ingredients and started including them in everything, I undercooked, I created lumpy sauces and custards that could be used as FX in B grade horror flicks, I skipped steps in recipes by accident and ruined things terribly.


I also learned and knowledge compounded on knowledge so that now I know the basic tenets of cooking and can do something with almost any given ingredient – if I generally know it’s properties, how it tastes, how it reacts to heat and cold, what group of spices it will react best with. I’ve learned how to chop and slice properly. I’ve battled with slimy fish and their stubborn-to-remove scales. I’ve sworn at Google when holding a weird Asian vegetable picked up out of curiosity at a market…trying to figure out what the hell to do with it.

It’s because I’ve never considered myself to be a great cook that I keep experimenting and adding to that knowledge base.

Anyhow, coming back to all that ‘don’t have time’ nonsense. Nonsense. You don’t have the skill.

Besides, if something is important enough to you, you’ll find the time.

20 minutes is all it took to make this:

It's stupidly healthy and really nice to boot. I had to stop M and C from eating it standing at the kitchen workbench and shoo them into the lounge.

Lamb pan fried in extra virgin olive oil with mint (Pan. Heat. Oil. Lamb. Watch. Flip. Watch. Remove. Cut slices at an angle if you love your guests. Take frozen mint – fresh seasonal mint which you’ve placed into the freezer for just such a time – and chop repeatedly until you have a mush that you can spread on the lamb. Don’t use the stuff in jars – this is much fresher and tastier, the only difference between it and fresh mint is the consistency as freezing has broken the cellular walls of the plant material.)

Steamed broccoli, steamed potato (If you can’t figure out how to use a steamer, I’m taking away your right to walk around in society. You’re a danger.)

Nuked sweet potato (Microwave. 3 minutes)

Sauteed mushrooms (A little bit of water into the frypan once the lamb is finished…swish round to pick up the residue and allow to boil…throw in chopped mushrooms. Wait till they’re, you know, cooked.)

Sauteed spinach with roasted sesame seeds and Maldon sea salt (Roasting nuts and seeds can be tricky – because they’re devious for the most part. They’ll do nothing…absolutely nothing…then, suddenly, they’ll be black and your smoke alarm will go off. Watch them like they’re a street urchin within sniffing distance of your wallet. Remove from heat when you can smell the roasting seed and when there is a hint of brown. As for the spinach? A little olive oil…heat…spinach…and it’ll be wilted – therefore done – before you can say “Geez, I wonder how long spina….” The salt? The important thing here is that it’s the wonderful little pyramid-shaped crystals of sea salt, not just factory-churned NaCl. Instructions? Sprinkle sparingly.)

Dessert? We didn't have any but if you want something really nice and *really* simple to make...

Take some very, very creamy greek yogurt. Drizzle honey on top. Roast some almond slivers (just like the sesame 'em...and don't be stingy, they taste glorious and add great texture) and sprinkle them on top. Voila.

And that, my darling blog readers is it.

Really, if I didn’t have a book in one hand, I could have shaved a good 5-7 minutes off. But who’s counting?


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