For what it’s worth, here’s what I think about food.

  1. "I can’t cook" is nonsense.
  2. Produce may not be everything to do with cooking, but it’s pretty damn close to it.
  3. You only get out what you put in (to steal a football cliché).
  4. 'Buy what’s in season. Here. Now.This minute'.
  5. Fresh is best.
  6. Unfortunately, buying produce is a skill that is learned, it’s not like breathing.
  7. It’s not splitting the atom, but cooking is easier and more fun with a little forethought.
  8. Nobody needs an Acme automatic watermelon seed remover.
  9. "I’d like to thank my parents, my wife, my greengrocer..."
  10. Necessarily complex and unnecessarily busy are very different.
  11. Subbies shouldn’t tackle Wallabies.
  12. You can’t eat the tablecloth.
  13. Never, ever use truffle oil. It is simply the work of the devil.
  14. Enjoy yourself.

 

1. "I can’t cook" is nonsense.

It’s only a matter of wanting to.Of course some people may have more flair than others,but I think that ‘wanting to’is nearly all of the battle.If I can,anybody can.

2. Produce may not be everything to do with cooking, but it’s pretty damn close to it.

It seems so obvious,but the better the produce that you start with,the better the end result.

3. You only get out what you put in (to steal a football cliché).

Seek out the best ingredients that you can find that you can afford.A really fresh farmed organic egg from a growers’ market is better than a commercial free range egg, which is certainly better than a battery hen egg.

Likewise,enjoy ham sliced off the bone,not tissue thin slices from a plastic pack,and spoil your guests with Ilabo lamb,White Rocks veal or a Barossa chook.

Use olive oils with their own personalities, sea salt, not iodised, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs and salad greens.

4. 'Buy what’s in season. Here. Now.This minute'.

Global transport,sophisticated farming and the power of the two major supermarket chains mean that we can have almost every type of produce all year round.
Which is a great pity because it makes us too accepting of dull,good looking produce with a long shelf life,instead of enjoying produce only when it is at its best.
Local asparagus in spring is worth waiting all year for,as opposed to that nasty pale stuff from Thailand. Change your recipe if the only John Dory available is frozen from N.Z.,not fresh from here,and rejoice at Christmas with our wonderful mangoes,cherries and peaches.

5. Fresh is best.

Can anyone explain to me why you would buy a plastic bag of frozen potatoes to roast instead of cutting one in quarters and drizzling it with olive oil and sea salt?
I work on the ‘frozen or canned is the last option,fresh is great,live is best’theory.And I eat pretty well on the strength of it.
Ice cream is fine frozen.And I guess that you can make a few exceptions like frozen peas or a can of Italian tomatoes or white beans when you’re squeezed for time, but you would think that Australia had no fresh produce at all,looking in some supermarket shopping trolleys.
If you need further motivation,read what is listed in the ingredients,and that’s without knowing what chemicals are really in the ‘flavour’component.

6. Unfortunately, buying produce is a skill that is learned, it’s not like breathing.

Buying the best produce is all about three things:knowledge,experience and relationships with produce merchants.
You need to know around about when the fig season starts and finishes, when peas and asparagus and broadbeans come in to season and when tomatoes are at their best.
Read foodie magazines and newspaper sections to find out what is in season and who the best suppliers are. Only experience can teach you how ripe (soft) a fig or avocado should be, or what prawns that have been frozen look like,or how heavy a nice,flesh filled crab should be.And you can really only trust a retailer that you have some sort of relationship with.
The response to “has the fish been frozen?” is likely to be very different if you are a regular customer and if they think that you can tell the difference.
Ask questions of your retailers and support those who know what they’re talking about. Use their knowledge – asking what is the best fish in the shop today is not a bad start.

7. It’s not splitting the atom, but cooking is easier and more fun with a little forethought.

Cooking should be fun, but it’s more fun if you have given it just enough thought to make things go smoothly.You need to think about a shopping list,because it is really dull running back to the shops for the couple of things that you either forgot to buy or thought you had enough of in the pantry – especially when you’re up to your ears in food and the guests are due.
You need to think about which plates and serving dishes you’ll need and have them handy so you’re not climbing in the back of the cupboard while the food is getting cold.
You need to think about how long each part of a dish takes to cook, then get ready for the table. For example, you wouldn’t start cooking the beans to go beside a roast until the meat was well rested and about to be carved.
You need to think about the effect of wine on your memory over the course of a dinner party.I even write a menu for myself,not the guests,listing the components of each dish.
This helps prevent finding the watercress that was supposed to go with the prawns in the fridge the next morning while I’m looking for a hangover cure.

8. Nobody needs an Acme automatic watermelon seed remover.

My mum had every useless,mostly plastic gadget ever made.I can’t remember any being used, but we had them all – especially if they had been advertised on TV.
You get what you pay for, and simple, good quality, mostly stainless steel kitchenware should last a lifetime and be a pleasure to cook with.

9. "I’d like to thank my parents, my wife, my greengrocer..."

There should be a sense of satisfaction when you have cooked well, but it’s hardly an end in itself. You don’t stick your stir fry on a plinth to be admired by all.
Never lose sight of the fact that cooking is all about sharing and demonstrating genuine generosity.

10. Necessarily complex and unnecessarily busy are very different.

Simple is generally best,but some dishes can’t be achieved with four ingredients.
A classic curry paste may have a dozen and it is only one component of the dish, while a salad of bocconcini,tomato and basil is bastardised by the addition of anything other than some good oil and maybe vinegar,salt and pepper.

11. Subbies shouldn’t tackle Wallabies.

We all have limitations – at everything.Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t push the envelope and try new things, just understand what is realistic. If you don’t have much experience, the Tetsuya or Peter Gilmore end of the pool is probably a bit deep.
Success with simpler food will have you motivated to progress to more challenging recipes over time. If you don’t believe that you can cook at all,don’t serve processed convenience food,‘arrange’great produce instead. A quality antipasta and a simple grill with a salad beats the pants off anything frozen or out of a can.

12. You can’t eat the tablecloth.

This is an expression of my old man’s and I agree with it entirely.
Sure it is nice to eat in nice places with nice décor and a nice looking table.But for me it is about the people you are sharing a meal with and what is on the plate,not the plate itself.
The floral arrangement is not a priority

13. Never, ever use truffle oil. It is simply the work of the devil.

14. Enjoy yourself.

Ultimately,this is what cooking is all about.The satisfaction of doing something well and the enjoyment that comes from doing something good for someone else.
If you absolutely can’t enjoy cooking, move in with someone who does, or resign yourself to eating in restaurants.

A few helpful hints

  1. Poison someone you love, not someone that you need to impress.
  2. Don't cook when you're cold.
  3. A little rest helps everybody.
  4. Enjoy a refreshing change from mushy salad vegies.
  5. If the salad is out when you walk in, walk out.
  6. How to peel a tomato.
  7. Salt is not the enemy.
  8. Don’t start with a cold pan.
  9. Eggshells like eggshells.
  10. Avoid kitchen knife manicures.
  11. Take the shortcut cooking rice.
  12. Food keeps cooking after you have finished.
  13. You have more meals in your kitchen than you probably realise.
  14. Be lazy. Line your baking trays.
  15. Don’t throw out the bits you don’t use.
  16. Drive your partner mad; save lots of takeaway containers.

 

1. Poison someone you love, not someone that you need to impress.

If you’re going to have a crack at an interesting recipe for the first time, give yourself a test run with your parents, your partner, your labrador but not your boss or your future in laws. People (and dogs) who love you, may forgive you.

2. Don’t cook when you’re cold.

Any red meat, fish or poultry should be brought back to room temperature before you cook it. If you want your steak burnt on the outside and raw in the middle, throw it straight into a hot pan from the fridge.

3. A little rest helps everybody.

Most red meat, poultry or even fish benefits from a little ‘rest’ immediately after cooking. Resting allows the fibres to relax and the juices to settle in the protein. The larger the piece of protein, the more important it is to rest it and the longer that it needs. You don’t need to rest garfish fillets or thin veal scallopini, but you certainly do need to give a leg of lamb, a roast chook or a lump of steak a few minutes to get over being cooked. Always rest in a warm place, because cold and rested are very different things.And cover the dish loosely with foil or a clean towel – don’t seal the dish or the food will steam from its own heat.

4. Enjoy a refreshing change from mushy salad vegies.

If you want to use vegetables like snowpeas, brocolli or beans in a salad, blanch them quickly in boiling water, drain them and put them into a big bowl of iced water to stop them cooking. The ice bath is the difference between brilliant looking crisp greens and grey,mushy vegies like grandma used to make.

5. If the salad is out when you walk in, walk out.

Damien Pignolet taught me how to make the perfect green salad a long time ago. Naturally, start with the freshest produce and use only the crisp inner leaves of lettuces. Wash them in cold water and dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner. Put the leaves in a plastic bag and seal, storing them in the fridge for a few days or until the cut ends begin to brown. Make the salad in the bowl you’re serving it in immediately before serving. Mix two or three parts oil to one part vinegar with some salt and pepper for your basic dressing, then add the leaves and toss. Of course, you can add mustard, chopped herbs, rub the bowl with a cut garlic clove, substitute lemon or lime juice for the vinegar or a heap of other variations. There should be just enough dressing to coat the salad, no more, no less.

6. How to peel a tomato.

Not with a vegetable peeler. Make a little cross in the skin of the bottom of the tomato with the point of a sharp knife. Drop into boiling water for ten seconds then remove and place immediately in ice water. The skin should then slip straight off and the tomato should still be firm.

7. Salt is not the enemy.

Salt is good. Salt is your friend. Salt can make things taste good, not just salty. Don’t be afraid of it – I’m talking teaspoons not pinches, though experience is the best teacher. Salt is better at the start of the cooking process than sprinkled over at the end; it seems to bring out the flavours of the other ingredients.

8. Don’t start with a cold pan.

If you put meat into a cold pan or wok, it will stick to it. If you put butter or oil into a cold pan it will burn by the time you get the protein in there. Just heat the pan for a minute, without burning through the bum of it before adding the oil or butter then the other ingredients.

9. Eggshells like eggshells.

If you’re breaking eggs in a bowl and a piece of shell falls in, you will chase it around forever with a metal spoon. If you use half an eggshell to scoop it out, the recalcitrant piece jumps straight in. Go figure?

10. Avoid kitchen knife manicures.

To further your career as a concert pianist, it is best not to chop the ends of your fingers off along with your parsley, onions or whatever. Do what the chefs do and bend the fingers holding the food at the last joint instead of extending your fingers normally.

11. Take the shortcut cooking rice.

Boiling or steaming rice is a bugger to get right in a saucepan. Rice cookers are cheap, easy to clean and absolutely foolproof.They also free up your cooktop for woks and other messy things.

12. Food keeps cooking after you have finished.

The heat from the cooking process keeps cooking food, especially protein (that’s meat, fish and poultry for those of us who failed science at school) after you have removed it from the pan, oven, steamer or whatever. So you need to make allowances, particularly if the food is going to rest for a while. Thick salmon fillets seared in a hot pan will go from very rare to ‘set’ in the middle if left somewhere warm for 10 minutes. Likewise a steak or chicken breast. It comes down to practice – knowing how much to under-cook something, knowing that it will keep cooking until it gets to the table.

13. You have more meals in your kitchen than you probably realise.

Forget about baked beans or a home delivered pizza when you can’t be bothered getting out of your pyjamas. Arborio rice, an onion, chicken stock, parmesan and almost any vegetable or even just a splash of balsamic and you have a proper risotto. Good olive oil, garlic, a leek, ripe tomatoes, basil or parsley, any good pasta and some parmesan or pecorino and you have a flavoursome, simple pasta. And a stale Italian bread roll, ripe tomatoes, basil, oil and balsamic is all you need for a classic peasant bread salad. Keeping quality dried pasta, Arborio rice and a lump of parmesan in the house certainly helps.

14. Be lazy. Line your baking trays.

OK, this sounds like something that grandma would tell you, but lining baking or grilling trays saves scrubbing them to get off the baked on bits. Use baking paper or tinfoil, go right to, or over the edge of the tray and you’ll have another couple of minutes to do more important things, like watching sport.

15. Don’t throw out the bits you don’t use.

It comes with practice, but the green king prawns that you bought for the entrée have heads that will make a wonderful soup or shellfish stock for risottos or sauces. The chicken that you use to make your own stock is then perfect for a chicken pie or the classic chicken sambos. Don’t just think of leftovers as leftovers. A piece of Chinese BBQ pork (char siu) with some egg, rice and spring onions is a long way towards fried rice. Good day-old Italian bread helps make a good bread and tomato salad, and, even leftover spaghetti turns into a pasta frittata with some eggs and parmesan.

16. Drive your partner mad; save lots of takeaway containers.

I have cupboards full of them, and it drives my wife nuts. But… when I’m preparing a dinner party and I want everything done beforehand and stacked in the fridge, they are really useful. From chopped leek and celery for the start of a risotto to peeled prawns to the coulis for the pudding, I go through a million of them. The only problem is eating enough takeaway.