Category Archives: Basics

Day 12 – How to Make Ricotta

Ricotta is a staple in my house. I use it mixed with crushed fruit or topped with jam over toast or muesli. I mix it with spinach and fetta for pies, make a quick 15 minute start-to-finish gnocchi or add it to roasted vegies in a salad. And that’s all before I use it in pancakes, desserts, or cakes.

As easy as it is to buy it, it’s even easier to make and takes just 30 minutes. If you don’t fancy a trip to the  supermarket just so you can make some pancakes, try this next time. Continue reading Day 12 – How to Make Ricotta

Basics – Butter Cake

In the mid 1970s while still living in Cornwall, I commenced  what was then called O Levels. As well as the mandatory English and Maths, my subjects included Biology, History, Geography, French – and Cookery.

It was called Cookery then, long before it became Home Economics or Food Technology, but to this day it remains the only formal study of cooking and nutrition I’ve done. The double period of lessons each week was always conducted in a kitchen and it was there I learned to make flaky pastry, a fat-less sponge cake and how to work with arrowroot and gelatine amongst other skills.

I was perfectly content in this world, but trouble lay away from the classroom. The theory involved – and the homework – was spent working out how protein is broken down and ingested, the correct way to re-heat food (and so avoid food poisoning), meal plans for diabetics, how Vitamin C is absorbed and so on. It was difficult course-work and I stumbled through it with very poor results. I doubt I would have passed this O Level had I continued. As it was, we relocated to Sydney and I abandoned Cookery, at least in the formal sense, at the end of Year 10. Continue reading Basics – Butter Cake

Basics – Cordial

I don’t drink soft drink and would be hard pressed to tell you the last time I had anything other than tonic or sparkling mineral water, but goodness I enjoy a good old-fashioned cordial, especially in the warmer months.

And by old-fashioned, I mean just that: Not for me the garish red food colouring and array of additives that go into a jar of lolly water. I want natural colouring, simple techniques, tried and tested recipes. If that means a bottle of home-made cordial lasts a month at best in the fridge rather than six months on a shelf, I don’t mind. At least I know exactly what’s gone into it. Even better, I can add it to a range of beverages for a decidedly grown up summer drink. Can’t do that with lolly water.

Now, this being a recipe basic, I’m sticking with the flavour I most enjoy – Lemon. There are endless variations of course, mainly relying on citrus fruit or fruits with a lot of natural pectin, such as berries. I plan to play with some more recipes as the summer progresses and other fruits come into season, but for now let’s stick with the basics – grab some lemons, buy a few limes if you are not lucky enough to have them growing in your garden and head to your supermarket to buy a couple of odd sounding products – tartaric acid and citric acid. Trust me they are there.

Continue reading Basics – Cordial

Basics – How to Choose a Chef’s Knife – And a Giveaway!

EDIT: Thank you everyone who left their comments about working with knives. Congratulations to Suzan Warnes in Queensland for her randomly-drawn winning comment. Thank you everyone.

If you are equipping your kitchen, you don’t need a lot of fancy gadgets, which is why you’ll never see me endorsing a hotdog maker or a fairy floss doo-dah. You do need to spend money on some quality items that will last for years but with an endless array of knives, utensils, saucepans and appliances to choose from it can get very confusing and very expensive – fast.

I have written about this before and come up with a couple of suggestions for basic equipment every kitchen needs and I suggest you make a shopping list if you are equipping your new home. But if you could only afford to buy one decent item at a time, where do you start? My number one suggestion would be a chef’s knife.

From pumpkin to parsley, there’s nothing a chef’s knife can’t cut through and you can with practise cut, dice and julienne food into the tiniest and most evenly sized pieces.

And yet, for what seems like obvious reasons, sensible people steer clear of them, thinking them dangerous objects. Timid cooks prefer small knives which are usually hopelessly unable to do the job required of them and it always ends in disaster. Now, I could regale you with that nastiest of clichés that a blunt knife will cause more damage than a sharp one – and it is not too far from gospel as it happens – but the fact is, ANY sharp knife will maim meaning that you, the user of this knife, will have to get to grips with it. All right, I’ll stop punning now.

First of all if you commit to buying a great knife, know that, with care and regular sharpening, your investment will last you a good twenty years or more. In most domestic kitchens, I would go so far to say that you don’t really need another straight-edged knife as I use mine to peel garlic, finely chop herbs and peel spuds or lemons. It will serve you brilliantly. So, once you make the decision to buy a good knife the question becomes which knife – and which sharpener? Continue reading Basics – How to Choose a Chef’s Knife – And a Giveaway!

Basics – Butter Cream, Cream Cheese Icing and Ganache

EDIT: A recent discussion on our Facebook page centered around kitchen failures, those apparently simple recipes that other people seem to do effortlessly, but that we always struggle with. Mine is crème anglais, others mentioned crepes, muffins, or a decent roast chicken.

But then there were a lot of people who have difficulties with icing a cake.

Here is a reprise of a post I wrote over a year ago which introduces you to the basics of soft icing. Another post on fondant icing will come up in the next couple of days.

____________________________________________

Called frosting in the US, butter cream is the soft creamy icing that we use on cupcakes, sponge cakes, children’s birthday cakes and all sorts of other cake decorations. A butter icing will keep a cake softer and fresher for longer.

Because it is made with butter rather than fresh cream it tends to last longer. It also holds its shape when you whip it or pipe it. It is the simplest style of icing to make and very popular with children who find it easier to spread. One basic recipe can be flavoured or coloured in a myriad of ways, from chocolate to vanilla, from blood-red or vivid purple to delicate baby pink. Continue reading Basics – Butter Cream, Cream Cheese Icing and Ganache

Basics – How to Cook a Steak

A while ago a girl friend and I went out to dinner at a bistro in the pub of my former home town. It was a Tuesday night and I was surprised to see people were lined up out the door. We soon found out why: It was the weekly $10 steak night.

On offer were some very good cuts of aged steak –  generous cuts of meat that we simply couldn’t afford as part of our grocery bill – but it placed my friend and I in a conundrum. To enjoy the steak, we would have to make a foray into that most blokey of all places – the pub barbecue grill.

I took one for the team and offered my services, terrified I would make a fool of myself.

I needn’t have worried.

Men – they were all men – all appeared to be massacring the meat a second time. One poured so much oil over his steak, the flames flared up into the extractor fans above. Others endlessly turned their steaks over, and over, and over. Every single person cut into their steaks at the end of the cooking time to check for done-ness.

Continue reading Basics – How to Cook a Steak

Lime and Garlic Mayonnaise

Making your own mayonnaise is far simpler than you may think and with the help of a food processor or blender you can make it in less time than it would take to go to the shops and buy a jar.

By making it yourself you can add any flavour combination you want. I’ve been adding lime and garlic for what seems like all summer. It’s my favourite mayo of the moment and I use it on everything  from chicken sandwiches to hot chips, vegetable fritters to barbecued meat to potato salad. A jar of the stuff will last in the fridge for a good two weeks. It goes without saying it will knock the stripes off anything you can buy.

Continue reading Lime and Garlic Mayonnaise

Basics – Chimichurri

The story goes that 19th century English landholders were enjoying a barbecue prepared by Argentinian gauchos and said “give me the curry”. The word ‘chimichurri’ evolved and the recipe is said to have been invented by an Irish settler called Jimmy McCurry.

Whatever the origins, chimichurri is both a marinade and a green sauce to eat with your steak, fish, chops and chicken. It is a wonderful way to inject masses of flavour without resorting to the same old barbecue sauce and ridiculously easy to make. It takes advantage of cheap and plentiful summer herbs, particularly parsley and coriander.

There are a number of ways to use this sauce – you can marinate meat in it, or you can baste it over meat as it is cooking. You can also spoon it onto your plate as a condiment for a refreshing, mouth-zinging change from mustard or tomato sauce. I tend to use this sauce within an hour or two of making it, but you can easily place it in a screw-top jar in the fridge for up to five days – the longer you leave it, the stronger the flavours will be for your barbecue.

Continue reading Basics – Chimichurri

Basics – Homemade Greek-Style Yoghurt

Making your own yoghurt is a very popular money-saving activity for thrifty cooks, but in this country we tend to stick to commercial thickening agents available on supermarket shelves to give us a home-made and cheaper alternative to the commercial yoghurts available.

Then I received an email from Lisa who describes the way her mother and grandmother routinely make their yoghurt and suddenly, I have done away with commercial yoghurts – and yoghurt-making premixed powders – for good.

And all for the cost of a litre of milk.

There’s all sorts of recipes out there – if such a thing as making yoghurt could be described as a recipe – and it can get as technical as you want, but blessedly Lisa has gone for the simple approach. There is no talk of thermometers here, no steaming or bottling, or any need for equipment that you don’t have. Continue reading Basics – Homemade Greek-Style Yoghurt

Basics – Home-made Ranch Dressing

One of the great salad dressings from North America, this is not a shy or retiring partner that lets the salad do all the work, oh no. It’s a full-on taste sensation and so it’s imperative to match it with the right salad ingredients that can go toe-to-toe with this bossy dressing. This is the dressing to have with warm potato salad, with bacon, croutons, robust salad leaves of every hue, rocket, roasted nuts and beetroot.

The essential ingredient in a ranch dressing is buttermilk and you really can’t go without it. At a pinch you can mix together equal amounts of low-fat milk and low-fat plain or greek yoghurt for a reasonable substitute. Continue reading Basics – Home-made Ranch Dressing