And that culinary genius is –of course- me. Over the past few years I’ve experienced my fair share of culinary tragedies and abominations: I burnt stuff (sometimes it was the cake, other times it was the meat and that one dreadful time it was even my hair), I’ve had soggy bottoms (for which I’m terribly sorry, Mary Berry) and I’ve managed to conjure up some really bland and boring dishes (Although, admittedly, that is a really long time ago)
If there is anything I’ve learnt from my cooking adventures, it has got to be this: cooking requires a “So what?!” attitude. You need to be able to let loose. To let your senses do the talking/cooking. To be confident. Even if in reality you couldn’t even distinguish the difference between Arborio and basmati rice. (Although I really hope you can, because otherwise you might get arrested by the foodie police)
Moreover, if you really want to become a good cook, you first and foremost have to be an adventurous and eager eater. If you don’t like eating all sorts of foods and tasting all kinds of cuisines, than why the hell do you want to learn how to cook in the first place? On top of that, I truly believe in the power of “winging it”. To my mind, a recipe is just a theme, a general idea that can be molded and shaped into something that is truly yours. Creativity and Variation. These are the two key elements that make a great culinary experience, and ironically it’s what scares beginning cooks the most. But let me tell you something, dear Cooking Dummies: don’t be afraid to embrace your experimental side. Have fun! Be brave! And if it turns out to be rubbish, remember: so what?
Since I’m already in a lecturing mode, here are three more tips that will turn you into a cooking wizard!
1) When the weather outside is frightful, be sure the food is still delightful!
I am a great advocate of basing your dishes on the weather forecast. If it’s really hot outside, opt for a light and summery dish.(Nobody wants to eat a hearty one pot wonder when you’re already sweating like hell!)And if it’s really cold outside, go for some ultimate, soothing comfort food that will warm you up from the inside out. (Seriously, I still don’t get why people would want to eat ice cream in the winter. I mean, isn’t it cold enough already?)
A key aspect of matching your food with the weather is seasonal cooking. Nothing can go wrong if you create recipes that feature freshly harvested foods. Nothing. Just look at the next recipe. I cooked this one while awaiting the worst storm in years to hit Europe. Pumpkin, endive, smoky bacon and cream cheese. Turned into a wonderful pasta sauce to coat those cute orecchiette. Thanks to this recipe the expected high winds suddenly seemed more like a silent sigh of pleasure and gratitude.
Storm-conquering orecchiette with fall flavours:
• 375gr orecchiette pasta
• 200gr cream cheese with herbs
• 250gr of pumpkin, cut into chunks
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1clove of garlic, finely chopped
• 3 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
• 1 head of endive, finely sliced
• 250gr smoky bacon
• 2 tbsp mustard
• Splash of white wine
1) Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.
2) Sautee the endive until soft, remove from the pan and set aside.
3) Heat a knob of butter in that same pan and fry the onion and pumpkin together with the thyme and garlic for a couple of minutes.
4) Add a generous splash of white wine and the same amount of water (use the starchy cooking water from the pasta!). Let it simmer for a couple of minutes.
5) In a separate pan, fry the bacon until crispy. Add the bacon and sautéed endive to the pumpkin mix and heat through. Season with salt, pepper and mustard.
6) Stir through the cream cheese and then add your cooked pasta.
2) The Bigger the Better
If you want to impress your friends and family, just bring out a big dish to share and I can assure you that they will be throwing rose petals at your feet out of utter delight. This jambalaya “my Way” is a family favourite at our house. When I come out of the kitchen with a gigantic pan in my hands, filled to the rim with spicy, satisfying goodness, they honestly start clapping. It looks sophisticated, decadent and incredibly luxurious… and yet it was all made in only half an hour and you have just one pan to put in the dishwasher afterwards. Splendid!
Jambalaya “My Way”
• 250gr wild rice
• 500ml Vegetable stock
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 carrot, finely chopped
• 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
• 2 peppers, one yellow and one red, sliced into thin strips
• 400gr canned tomatoes
• 150gr chorizo, finely chopped
• 2 chicken breasts, cut into small chuncks
• 200gr brown shrimps
• 150gr cooked crayfish
• ¼ tsp smoked paprika
• 3 tbsp Cajun spices
• Fresh parsley
1) Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the chicken with one tablespoon of Cajun spices and salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2) In that same pan, fry the vegetables in some olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the rice, smoked paprika and Cajun spices and fry for a couple of minutes.
3) Stir in the canned tomatoes and then add the stock. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until therice absorbs liquid and becomes tender, stirring occasionally. This will take about 15-20 minutes.
4) Add the browned chicken and cook for a further 5 minutes. Now add the chorizo, shrimps and crayfish and finish with fresh parsley.
3) Spice things up!
I’ve said this so many times already, but I simply cannot repeat it enough: spicing is everything. What once was an expensive commodity and played a crucial part in the development of civilization, can now be found in kitchen cupboards all over the world and herbs grow in abundance in cute allotments or my very own windowsill pot. Spices and herbs are entrenched in our history and the cooking possibilities are endless. They bring everything to life and should therefore righteously form the foundations of every possible recipe.
Pomelo, mint and coriander marinated aubergine with fragrant tomato sauce and herby couscous
For the marinated aubergine:
• 4 aubergines
• 8 tbsp fresh coriander
• 8 tbsp fresh mint
• 4 tbsp dried pomelo, finely chopped
• 3 cloves of garlic, minced
• 2 tbsp honey
• ½ tbsp sumac
• 1 tbsp za’atar
• ½ tsp chilli powder
• Juice of half a lemon
For the tomato sauce
• Can of tomatoes
• ½ red pepper
• ½ tsp chili powder
• 1 tbsp za’atar
• ¼ tsp rosewater
For the herby couscous:
• 250gr couscous
• Lots of chopped parsley, coriander, mint,..
• Handful of raisins and cranberries
1) Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut the aubergines lengthways into thick slices but make sure the ends are still attached. Drizzle with olive oil and put in the oven for 15 minutes.
2) Make the marinade by combining all the other ingredients and spread it generously between each layer of aubergine. Put in the oven for a further 20-30 minutes until the aubergines are really soft and unctuous. (Cover with foil it they colour too quickly)
3) Make the tomato sauce by heating everything in a small sauce pan and let it simmer for 30 minutes.
4) Cook the couscous and stir through the herbs, raisins and cranberries.