Friday, July 30, 2010

And we’re back!

Well, some amazing and exciting things have been happening at work but that’s enough about that. The current TV phenomena “MasterChef” has made me think back to my first foray into cooking.

Once upon a time, around 5 BC (before children), I decided that I would like to become a better cook. I’m not sure why; it could have been the shock guests displayed when I invited them for dinner; it could have been something else, but probably the shock. Anyway, I began with various recipe bases and experimented with sauces and condiments and even tried some sticky glazes. Even I have to admit that first meal was a bit much. I think the balance was out but DW (who was DG at the time) suggested it should have had some sort of protein. And typically the bases aren’t for mixing.

So it was back to the drawing board. My new rule was one packet mix at a time. I had always thought a good chef can “feel” their way through a recipe and it was time to acknowledge that I was not a good chef. So I read the instructions on the packet. I bought the ingredients it suggested (DG later told me that those ingredients should be considered necessary in my case). I read the instructions again. And again. I found I knew most of the words but the sentences themselves didn’t really stick in my head. So I read just the first instruction again and really concentrated on that. Once the oven was on at the required temperature for the required time, I read the second instruction. Apparently I was completely unable to keep the essence of the step in my head. Eventually I managed to put the onion in a pan only to have to remove it a few seconds later to chop the bloody thing. I had discovered another important fact about recipes. Preparation time doesn’t include the preparation of the individual ingredients.

So I finally managed to pour the recipe base mixed with water and tomato paste into the screaming hot pan where my beef strips were beginning to blacken and my chopped onions had gone from soft and golden to dark and crunchy. I probably should have used hot water in the mix because as soon as the cold liquid hit the pan it pretty much exploded. I thought I had done something wrong. I was right, but it turned out that it wasn’t the wrongest thing I had done. It was explained to me after that frozen beef chunks should be defrosted before cooking and not just broken apart and tossed in the pan. In my defense, I quite reasonably expected that putting frozen meat in a hot pan would defrost it but there are complications to that method. Anyway, after finally getting the meal to simmer nicely, I went on to step 3.

The potatoes were a comparatively easy step. They just needed to be peeled and boiled for long enough as to become soft and mashable. I figured that I could just boil and boil and boil them but it turns out that after a while they sort of come apart and a lot of the actual potato mass seems to dissolve in the water. After draining the... well it sort of looked like soup now... there was not a whole lot of potato left. I managed to bulk it out a bit with grated cheese, milk and butter and a small hand full of plain flour but even with a lot of salt it tasted more like Deb mixed with butter and cheese. It didn’t taste too bad but the texture was a little challenging.

Anyway, after that debacle, I decided to be a little more conservative with the carrots and broccoli and DG said that was the most successful part of the meal. They were slightly warm and extremely crunchy, which is just how I like them, though I think DG was being nice.

So finally I “plated up” and put all of the parts of the meal on the plate. I also learned another important lesson that day. No matter how badly you stuff up the mashed potato, it is still better to serve it hot, or at the very least, warm. The meat mixture was kind of lumpy and had small pockets of dry unmixed recipe base, which I think added the occasional little surprising burst of flavour in an otherwise very tomatoey flavoured sauce. The onions had all but disintegrated entirely but still managed to add a sort of smokey chalk flavour but unfortunately the meat itself wasn’t very good. We were able to eat the outside of the hard little lumps but the very centres were, amazingly, still quite bloody and cold. I should point out that they weren’t frozen at the centre but that was a small victory.

Also, I learned that on many of these recipe bases there are two recipes; the basic one and a more elaborate version that apparently requires the oven for some part of it. My 20 min (+ 5 min preparation time) meal had taken nearly an hour and a half and was an unmitigated disaster, and the oven had been on the whole time. We had ice cream for dessert. I like to microwave mine.

In the end DG still became DW so it can’t have been too bad. Mind you, I didn’t pop the question after that meal – I didn’t want to risk getting a sympathy “yes”. In fact I waited a few more years, just to be sure. And after some assistance from DW...or as she tells it; her cooking by proxy...I have actually improved somewhat from those first tentative steps into the world of cooking. In fact, some might say I am now an exceptional cook, if you take into account where I started. So if you are lucky enough to get an invitation to a meal cooked by yours truly, don’t be put off by the above story. That was years ago. I guarantee it will be a meal to remember. And we have the local pizza place on speed dial.


Thought for the Day: Cook from the heart. If you can cook, that is. Otherwise stick to the bloody recipe.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guten tag!

I have recently discovered that my evil toe may not actually be evil after all.  At least, that is what the evil little piggie wants me to believe.  It would have me believe that the actual culprit, "so-called", is an affliction called Restless Legs Syndrome.  Now I admit that I do have many of the symptoms of RLS, but I have always attributed them to my diabolical digit.  However, my doctor feels firstly: that my tyrannical toe is not the spawn of the devil, and secondly: chopping the f*#$@%g thing off (my words) would not actually solve the problem.  That said, my main reason for not severing my tiny nemesis is not that it would likely hurt like hell, but rather an unreasonable fear (or is it) that the little fiend would actually grow back, bigger and badder than ever.

So I'm humouring my doctor and I am taking this Restless Legs Syndrome, "so-called", seriously. I have been told that my incessant pacing and twitching may be alleviated by the addition of magnesium, calcium and iron in my diet.  It was not without some irony that I found myself surrounded by short, oddly muscled men in a health supplement store buying my new "fix".  Apparently these stores are where you can buy muscles when you have trouble growing them yourself.  I also noted the expensive clothes store on one side of this shop and a sports store on the other.  All they need now is a medical clinic that dispenses Viagra and they could rename this section "Self-Esteem Lane".

Anyway, enough about my legs, for now.  I'll let you know if the vitamin supplements or the holy water have any effect.

I was lucky enough to get home in time to watch Princess do her second swimming lesson with her new squad.  Far from her previous lessons which involved fairly simple tasks and introductory stuff, these lessons are considerably more serious and a lot more intense.  The thing that impressed me most was the enthusiasm Princess has for the sport.  She quite literally hurls herself into the pool.  By that I mean she was doing the diving lesson when I arrived and her technique is...developing. Even the instructor covered her face with her hands in dismay when she saw how hard Princess hit the water on her stomach.  She does manage to get further than anyone else but hasn't quite got the idea of keeping her head down and sliding into the water.  For a little body she can make quite a big splash.  However, despite the reddening of her legs from the impacts, she didn't hesitate to get back up on the blocks time and again to repeat her mistake.  She did complain that her tummy felt a bit sore after.  That would be the eight successive belly flops I suspect.

Little Man is into his last term of Kinder and while he does enjoy it, he is finding it and life in general pretty tiring.  Of course, the fact that he goes at it like a bull at a gate is part of the reason but still... He had his haircut yesterday after Kinder and DW was recounting his displeasure at not being given his usual downtime.  He growled at the hairdresser and her laughing hysterically did little to quell his anger.  Luckily by the time I got home, he had calmed down after being able to play computer games without having to share with his older sister, who was off at swimming practice at the time.

Anyway, time to go.  More tomorrow (maybe?).


Thought for the Day: Blanketty blank blanking blanker (trains late again)