How To Be A Better Cook

I was reading my latest copy of Scientific American Mind (being a psychology teacher after all!), and was a little surprised to find an article giving four tips on how to be a better cook.  They include:

  1. Be focussed – especially when you’re cooking something that you think you know off by heart
  2. Mise en place – lay everything out beforehand
  3. Cook more often – practice, of course, makes perfect!
  4. Add butter and onions…

I was very pleased to see that I at least do the laying out and the practice tips already, although I have occasionally been guilty of not paying enough attention when cooking so that sometimes things do go wrong.  I’m not sure about the butter and onions one – although if you see some TV chefs when they are cooking chucking in tons of butter (James Martin, I’m thinking about you!), there clearly is something to the butter part at least.  Onions form the basis of 90% of my cooking already, and I’m looking for things to cook which don’t involve them as while they are one of the world’s greatest ingredients, I’d like a bit more variety.

I would add a few more tips though:

  • Do your research – when trying a new recipe, check online to see what other people thought of the recipe.  This is really easy when you are doing a new recipe you’ve found on a blog as usually the comments section is full with thoughts about that particular recipe.  When trying a recipe from a brand new cookbook though, sometimes it can be hard to find out what other people have thought… I would then look for other versions of the same recipe and see how they are different to the one I want to try.
  • Try everything – the only food I don’t like is liquorice.  That aniseed flavour is just not something that I enjoy although I know a lot of people who look at me in wonder when I say this.  I am happy to eat everything else though and am always willing to try out something completely new.  I’m still willing to try out new variations on the aniseed flavour just in case I might start to like it – although this hasn’t yet come true.
  • Don’t be put off by a new recipe because you lack one ingredient/piece of kit.  Search online for substitutions and see if there is a work-around for the kit.  I can’t seem to find asafoetida anywhere, and needed it for a lime pickle recipe I’m trying out at the moment, but read online that onion or garlic powder can be substituted (or even ignored altogether), so got on with version 1.0 of the lime pickle and we’ll see how it turns out.  I’ve sometimes found that when I have forgotten a key ingredient of something I have ended up with something a bit different but equally lovely.  I know that there are so many different variants of most recipes that what I am doing is probably out there somewhere so relax and get on with it.
  • Clean up as you go – our kitchen is not small, but it certainly isn’t big.  It is one of those galley type long and narrow kitchens where two people can work together only if they are happy about a certain amount of body contact when passing.  There is a fairly limited amount of counter space and can get cluttered very quickly – but doesn’t if I clean up as I go through a recipe.  I frequently do little chores while waiting for something to happen while cooking as well (like emptying the dishwasher, or cleaning the coffee machine), so that these can get ticked off the list as well.

Quick Kitchen Tip: When meringues go wrong…


The meringues before they all went wrong – I used a new brand of greaseproof paper which wasn’t particularly greaseproof and they stuck!

When meringues go wrong Eton Mess is the usual “save”.  This happened to me recently, but I have found a new recipe that makes it look like it was deliberate to have chunks of broken meringue.

The Chocolate Meringue Semifreddo from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is easy, delicious and makes a lovely change from Eton Mess.  Just remember to pretend it was deliberate…

Frugal Fridays: A glut of bananas


Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to be organised, you end up with more produce than you can get through before it goes off.  Today, that happened to be bananas that ripened faster than usual – I had 9 bananas needing to be eaten immediately.   Here is what I did with them:

  • two were immediately blended with 400ml milk for two banana milkshakes
  • two were sliced and frozen in a freezer bag for a frozen smoothie at some point in the future
  • the remaining five were sliced thinly and baked in the oven at 100 degrees C for three hours to be banana chips for snacks