My name is Snigdha, I live in South London and have a passion for food, cooking, eating and drinking. I would like to share that love with you through this little blog. I want to cover the full range of home cooked food, restaurants dining (up and downmarket), cafes/snack shops and humble street stalls.
I am person who came into cooking later in life and after having something of a phobia about cooking. It was all so scary – I'd burnt things, undercooked them, made lumpy sauces – basically I'd got the whole thing totally wrong. It was too difficult!
My mum is a great cook. She makes wonderful banquets of Indian food for her visitors. Eight, ten dishes – no problem. I wanted to learn from her. But she cooks very much like a lot of Indian people; by feel. She instinctively knows what is right. She never follows a recipe. So I observed and tried to learn from her. However, this could not give me an understanding of HOW MUCH of anything had to be used for a dish. And with Indian food, this could be a problem. Too much chili powder – dish uneatable. Too much water or yoghurt in a curry – dish too bland to give any pleasure.
Cooking classes at school were even worse! We had teacher who was obsessed with using time efficiently. We didn't just have to cook a dish competently, but we had to use each minute to its full, having drawn up a 'time plan' first. Frying onions for 10 mins? Well, you should be cleaning up all your utensils at the same time as the frying is taking place. OK, Miss, will do! Dash to sink and wash up. Onions meanwhile frying in hot pan. Result? – onions not tended to, onions burn, dish ruined.
Then I went to university and had to look after myself. My initial plan was to survive like many students on instant noodles, packet food and the like. Thankfully, I was saved by my friends Hannah and Chris and learned to make stir fries, simple curries, pasta sauces, and stews and survived my 3 years eating food well above the muck served in the refectory. (Sorry, refectory!) But I still had a lot of fear of things going wrong, and was only willing to make 'safe' dishes which I knew were within my abilities. Again, I was saved, this time by my husband (a very good cook) who gave me some simple foolproof skills and most importantly, confidence.
So if you are an aspiring or insecure cook, if like me you've had lots of disasters, these are my top tips to kitchen success:
- Read the recipe thoroughly when you shop and again before you start cookingThis one is pretty obvious, but not following it can really make you come a cropper. You might spend time making a lovely stir-fry which needs to be enjoyed hot, and because you've not read ahead, you get to the last line which says 'serve with steamed rice' and damn! You've not thought about what you'll serve it with! The rice will take 15 mins and by then the dish will be cold. Or you could commit the schoolboy error I did when hosting a tapas night for some friends – I intended to make pickled cauliflower. I finely sliced a whole cauliflower only to discover that the dish should have been prepared 3 days in advance! Oh dear! Now what was I going to do with all that sliced cauliflower?
- Prepare all your ingredients before you start cookingSome of us can multi-task, and some can't. It's an unfortunate fact that if you are doing something you feel a little anxious about, you are not going to be effective in multi-tasking. So if you are still a little unfamiliar or stressed out about cooking, don't increase that stress by leaving yourself the task of ingredient preparation whilst trying to cook at the same time. Do all of your peeling, chopping and measuring at the start, and whilst it may all take a little longer, you won't make any mistakes.
- Put some good music on whilst you are cookingCooking is time consuming, and sometimes a little stressful. Until you are familiar with all the processes involved, you probably won't find it very enjoyable. Don't worry – with persistence that enjoyment will come! Until then, help the time pass by and lower your stress levels by listening to music while you cook. I'd advise against TV as it could distract you and lead to burnt food!
- AWAIn Hollywood, many actors during a read-through exasperate their directors by trying to be creative and changing the lines. The director will advise them “AWA!” or “as written, a&*hole!”. The first time you make a dish, make it as the recipe calls for. Don't make any amendments until you've tried it from the original recipe. The original recipe (if it is of any repute) ought to have been tested a few times, so the balance of flavours should be pretty good. If you make it the first time, and perhaps its a bit bland or too strong flavoured, make the amendments next time, knowing what the final dish actually tasted like. And of course, don't make amendments lightly when baking bread/cakes/biscuits: those items are based on fixed ratios of fat to flour to rising agents etc – unless you really know what you are doing, you may spoil the final result by meddling.
- Always use an electronic timerI can't take credit for this tip – it comes from my husband. You may think that you can just time your cooking by feel. If you remain alert and keep an eye on the clock, perhaps you will be fine. But some things are just ruined by overcooking; pasta is soggy and nasty if overcooked, garlic when burnt is bitter and will spoil whatever it goes into. You will often find you are trying to do something else, like cooking the sauce, when the pasta is boiling. Can you really keep an eye on the clock for 9-10 minutes at the same time? My experience says NO! Make life easy for yourself by using an electronic timer. You'll never make a mistake for the smallest of outlays.
Those are my top tips. Do you have any of your own? Do share, we can all learn something new from each other in this wonderful world of food and drink!