I am a culinary hack in more than once sense of the word. Whilst I love to cook and bake, my love does not quite extend, apparently, to a passion for improvement. The result is that I am always pressed for time in my kitchen. I am always stressed, I am never happy, and I rarely achieve that zen-like state that seasoned professionals insist is the reason they turn up to work in the morning.
As a consequence of this ham-fistedness I've had to develop a technique or two, and also had to embrace some time saving methods in order to make my life a little more palatable, and hopefully my dishes too.
Firstly, some rules I've discovered:
1. Always double the prep time a recipe says. If you read the ingredients list closely, you'll see that a lot of your foods are part way prepared. 1 Brown Onion, finely chopped. 2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed. 2 cups of plain flour, sifted. Go through your list and do all those mundane tasks first. That way you don't have to run around like a headless (or soon to be fingerless) chicken with a sharp knife trying to dice, peel and stir fry at the same time.
2. Pay attention to what state your ingredients must be in. Eggs at room temperature? Ensure they are, either by removing them from the fridge 30 minutes earlier or submerged in hot water for 10 or so seconds. Butter is much harder to judge. I'd microwave for no more than ten seconds for room temperature. Iced water MUST be iced. Of course, if you have no time whatsoever, throw your ingredients in and hope for the best. But for the top quality result, follow the recipe!
3. Sort your utensils and ingredients out BEFORE you cook a single thing! How many times have I been sautéing then realised I need the cumin right now!! Many. The problem is, my spice 'basket' (literally a big basket with all my spices in it) is a complete shambles. It looks like the labor party; in total disarray. If your ingredients are out and measured you'll hit each part of the recipe on time and achieve the best results. No more over-cooked garlic! And don't forget your utensils!!
4. Use the RIGHT utensils. I once attempted to roast a chicken in a high sided casserole pan. Needless to say, when I went to carve it my counter resembled the famous scene from Game Of Thrones where everyone dies. There was literally blood everywhere. I never knew chickens had that much blood. If you're roasting, use a crockery dish with low sides, and if you don't want to over-brown the meat then cover it in foil.
5. Pre-heat! Makes cooking times much more accurate, and saves you needing to check every 5 minutes. If it says to add something to hot oil heat the oil up first for at least 4 minutes. Always avoid putting anything in an oven that isn't fully heated up yet. If you're using gas, it should take between 10 and 20 minutes to heat up. A thermometer is your best friend, pick one up and you'll never look back.
6. Use scissors. Don't risk cutting your digits off chopping up parsley. We're not Gordon Ramsay, we can't wield a knife like Dexter. Grab a pair of scissors, position yourself over the dish and snip away. Same goes with sausages, chilli, lettuce, whatever you want really!
Those things are all boring, and after a while become second nature. Let me share now with you another passion of mine: home-made ingredients. There is actually nothing like making something completely from scratch. Sure, we could go down to Woolies, pick up a simmer sauce and have a really decent curry in half the time. Thank god these sauces exist, because after a long day of work you really don't want to be slaving over a pestle and mortar grinding garlic.
However, there is absolutely nothing like creating your own dish from the bottom to the top. Mixing your own flour, making your own curry paste, pulsing your own pesto, making your own pastry. I shake my head at those suckers reaching for the frozen pastry sheets. Sure, they'll be eating dinner an hour before me and they won't die from heart disease at 45, but I'd much rather my buttery brilliance than their dry dough. The key, like most things in cooking, is to make a whole bunch of whatever you need, throw it in an old jar, wack it in the fridge and you've got a super cheap ingredient that tastes brilliant and is ready when you are.
I will share with you my recipe for Spinach Pesto. It is a composite of about 10 different pieces from various sources, and let me tell you before you start: this one is for the garlic lovers. I adore garlic. I eat it raw, I triple it in all my recipes, I add it to mash. I once attempted to ingest a garlic vegetable juice. And you know what? It tasted bloody awesome. Obviously if you're not a garlic fan, don't use this many. My advice would be to use 3 cloves a more traditional taste.
2 cups of spinach (or silverbeet, whatever is cheaper) leaves
1/4 cup of fresh continental Parsley
1/4 cup of fresh coriander (cilantro)
1/4 cup of toasted nuts. Pine nuts, walnuts, almonds or macadamia's all work. If you want a creamier texture use untoasted cashews. To toast, place them under a grill on low for about 5 minutes or until browned.
1/3 cup parmesan cheese (the more pungent the better)
5 garlic cloves
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil (no subs here, use the best you've got)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Combine all your ingredients in a blender and pulse away. You want to ensure that all the pieces of spinach and parsley are broken up. Stir it once, pulse again for about 5 seconds, stir it a second time, pulse again and you're done!
Transfer to a clean jar, pour some olive oil on the top (a thin layer) and store in your fridge until it starts to smell bad (about 3 weeks).
Quick ideas to use up your pesto? Check back with me, I'll have some yummy recipes for you!