Category Archives: cooking

The small print is the most important ingredient on the label …

There are lots of reasons why Rocco’s mother should probably remember to take her reading glasses to Food-o-rama. Without them, she can just about drive the car there, negotiate her way across the carpark in a fairly basic manner and stumble through the sliding glass doors of the mall – and mostly, she can even tell which aisle she’s in. She knows her way around Food-o-rama well enough to almost locate the products she requires – and sometimes even gets it right. Last week however, she managed to get it wrong in rather an epic and spectacular display of misjudgement – and Rocco paid for it the next day. Indeed, Rocco’s hapless colleagues probably paid, too.

Rocco’s mother, who is definitely not renowned for Nigella-esque bursts of culinary activity (or mesmerising bosoms, even), decided to try a type of bottled coconut curry sauce in which to cook chicken. It looked delicious altogether and was – which is important – in an aesthetically pleasing jar. Obviously, there is far more to curry sauce than the illustration on the label – indeed, if Rocco’s mother was any kind of mother at all, she’d be making her own curry sauce with a million exotic spices ground lovingly with a pestle and mortar hewn from million-year-old volcanic rock. Rocco’s mother is not that kind of mother –  a fact which has been long established – and any foray into the kitchen is miraculous in itself. People are expected to show gratitude.

Rocco was prepared to show quite a bit of gratitude, because the curry smelt delicious as it simmered away – and Rocco was hungry.  He was happy his mother had made enough that there was some left over for him to take for lunch the next day. Goodo, and much anticipatory gnashing of teeth.

It became apparent to Rocco’s mother, as she sampled the first forkful, that she should not have gone there. The coconut curry was arsebreakingly evil – even the fumes entering the nostrils were ringing out a warning. Fumbling for her glasses, Rocco’s mother examined in detail the beautifully illustrated label on the jar, and discovered, in small print, ‘… with HOT peri peri’. Rocco’s mother did not have a clue of the meaning of peri peri. She did, however, have a working knowledge of the meaning of ‘hot’. It is a word she associates with water bottles, roast dinners and Alan Rickman. It is not a word she had ever considered in the same sentence as peri peri. Nevertheless, so it was written, and she felt it necessary to issue Rocco with a timid and somewhat embarrassed warning:

‘I don’t think we’re going to be able to eat this …’

Rocco and his mother sat with tears streaming down their faces and their nostrils twitching alarmingly. Rocco managed to finish his – though his mother was less enthusiastic about having her internal organs perforated, decimated and spat out at the other end. Both parties reached for tubs of fruche in order to put things to rights – and Rocco’s mother suggested Rocco may not wish, all things considered, to take the remains of the curry to work the next day.

Imagine her surprise the next morning on discovering the container of curry had been removed from the fridge and taken to Rocco’s place of employment – which, fortunately, is an open-walled timber mill. The thought of Rocco being cooped in a small, musty, air conditioned office was more than Rocco’s mother could bear thinking about. She thanked the Great Mother he was not performing brain surgery that day. She worried all morning about her son’s health – flinching each time she heard ambulance sirens, fire sirens – or even police sirens, as she considered excessive flatulence in the workplace could certainly constitute a crime against humanity.

In the middle of the afternoon, Rocco’s mother received a txt msg. ‘Thnx heaps – thr ws plastic in my lnch.’

There are lots of reasons why Rocco’s mother should wear her reading glasses whilst cooking. One of which is that, after snipping the plastic strip from the top of the noodle pouch, she would be able to ensure it went into the bin, rather than into the stir-fry. Rocco’s mother cannot comprehend how this happened – but consoled herself with the fact a strip of plastic probably would have done far less harm to her son’s digestive tract than the food in which it was lodged. As Rocco assured her his lunch was ‘nicer today than last night’, she saluted herself on having improved the recipe with her surprise ingredient inclusion. She may now patent a new range of curry sauces:

‘With HOT peri peri – and plastic strip.’

Rocco’s mother can almost hear Nigella wishing she’d thought of it first.

.oOo.

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Puff pastry can make anybody feel like Nigella …

It’s no secret I hate cooking. The only good thing about sticky summer weather is that nobody really wants to eat anything. You can be sitting there at 9pm sponging perspiration from your face with your legs spreadeagled over the coffee table (a charming vista from almost any angle) and nobody’s likely to say, ‘How about some roast suckling pig and a dozen treacle dumplings (with custard).’ They’d sooner die. Not only do they lack the capacity to plough into such repast – they’re also well aware I’d have to kill them.

My friend Jules, whose claim to fame is cooking ‘from scratch’, is quite astounded when I’m game enough to mention convenient things like fish fingers. I do it sometimes purposely when I feel she’s being too smug and needs stirring up. I have no doubt Jules makes her own fish fingers, forming hand-minced flaked flathead into artistic oceanic shapes with her bare hands and crumbing them. With crumbs made from scratch with … yes, bread. Probably home-baked and grated with her own toenails. Opening a frostbound box from the freezer department of Food-o-rama is probably as foreign to Jules as a working knowledge of what to do with a Brussels sprout is to me. Furthermore, I just don’t care. Some of us were put on this earth to nurture our families – and the rest of us weren’t.

There is something mind-numbingly boring about going to the supermarket anyway. Filling your trolley with vegetables, taking them home, nuking them – then scraping them from your children’s plates into the bin. If you took them straight home and binned them immediately, you could cut out the middle man completely. It must be the ‘guilty mother’ syndrome which keeps you battling away – so when the doctor tells you your family has scurvy and every nutritional deficiency known to man, you can say with complete honesty, ‘I tried giving them vegetables, sir … but they wouldn’t eat them!’ It sounds lame, but you’ll get away with it because it’s no longer legal to jam things into kids’ mouths and tape them shut.

I once remember cooking something – but it didn’t work. It’s tempting to try again when winter sets in and the aroma of the neighbours’ pot roast comes wafting through the kitchen window. Tendrils of gastronomic extravagance curling through the barren wastes of my non-productive kitchen. Sadly, the Hunter Gatherer sometimes thinks the aroma’s ours. He looks hopeful and asks what I’m cooking. I tell him to stand near the open window and breathe in. It’s called ‘passive eating’ – it’s inexpensive and you won’t gain weight. Our neighbours have no idea how many of their meals we’ve enjoyed by osmosis. If they cook something really hideous, we just close the window and the HG is forced to endure yet another dalliance with fish fingers.

A very convenient tool in the art of feeding your family is the knowledge nobody will ever let themselves starve. When they start making whimpering sounds, you point to the loaf of bread. Your only contribution to the scheme of things is to make sure there is a loaf of bread. The survival instinct will then take care of the rest. If you’re really fortunate, one of your offspring will discover they have a flair for cooking and will shove rudely past you to get to the spice rack. You may be lucky enough to get quite a few years’ mileage out of this before they leave home.

But the best invention since sliced bread (or any bread, really) is the packet of ready-rolled puff pastry sheets. You can wrap them around just about anything and people will be incredibly impressed. Just open a tin, bung it on the pastry, do a bit of artistic crimping … and voila! Your family thinks you’re Nigella. Not only that, you can use up those tins of Pal you don’t need anymore since WoofWoof moved down the street to where the dogs are spoiled rotten with home-made beefy numnums.

Necessity being the mother of invention, feeding the family need only be limited by your imagination. You will find you can fool almost all of the people most of the time with the pastry trick. I was telling Jules about it the other day and she refused to believe there would be any call for such a product. Fortunately for some of us, there most definitely is. Due to consumer demand, the packs of ready-rolled pastry now come in an economy pack of 10 sheets. Bliss on a stick, and bring on the dog bowl!

Eat your heart out, Nigella …

.oOo.

Eulogy for the chicken in the box …

 

There will probably come a time in the Ides of Man and even in the life of the most conscientious ‘from scratch’ cook, when you just can’t be bothered whipping anything up. Kitchen ennui has finally set in, there’s only you to feed because the kids are at camp and your partner is dining out, and you find yourself gazing wistfully at the boxes of frozen dinners in the supermarket freezer section.

            If this is the first time you’ve looked, you’ll wonder why you didn’t sooner. Believe me, you will be impressed considerably indeed. If you take any notice of the front of the box, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in for a gastronomic treat. A choice cut of tender grilled chicken breast (marinated in wine and flecked with fresh herbs), nestles cosily beside fat, glossy vegetables glazed with butter and garnished with fresh parsley sprigs. There is even steam rising from the designer plate. Whoa! – Looks like my kinda meal, you think, snatching it up, your mouth already watering at the very thought of sitting in front of Desperate Housewives with this little box of gourmet decadence perched on your lap. Well, ha ha – sucked in!

            It’s rather interesting how frozen TV dinners can be made to look like restaurant fare on the front of the box. It’s not done by you actually heating the stuff – it’s done by food stylists. They don’t exactly lie, but let’s face it – there’s a difference between Elle crawling out of bed in the morning with her eyes gummed together and mossy teeth, and the way she finally presents when an army of lackeys has spent the best part of the day with a bucket of mortar and a tube of wood glue, tarting her up.

            The chicken breast on the front of the box has similarly been preened. Just look at what you’ve actually got, will you? A flaccid, slug-like white thing encased in icicles – yuuuummy! Next to it, in little compartments, are six frozen peas, six frozen carrot rings (with artful corrugations) – and a spoonful of gummy rice. This is not enough to feed your average anorexic hamster. People must have complained about the size of these dinners, as there is now a larger version. Buy it if you dare – there’s nothing like queuing at the checkout while the girl yells; ‘Price check on the Greedymeal Obese Portion Boombah Chicken Dinner!’ at the top of her voice. Now the other people in the queue not only know you are greedy – but lazy, too. I just love this. It makes you feel full of confidence and ready to face the world, believe me. Try it if you feel the need to be brought down a peg or two.

            Disappointment will inevitably fall heavily upon you as you compare the picture on the box with the rigor mortised, icebound wonders in the specimen container. Could this be the same chicken? Sadly – not. The one on the box had a steam machine and a soundtrack. It was an Elle of a chicken, propped up at the back with toothpicks and generously embalmed with a glistening sauce of wine and butter. Your portion came from an ‘unknown’. The bit-part extra of the chicken world, who was never quite good enough for a speaking role. The vegetables are no better than the ones you have in your very own freezer – except you could have given yourself a bigger portion (as in Greedymeal Obese Portion Boombah). Indeed, if you rip the box up, it will taste more interesting with a dob of garlic butter than the bit-part fowl – even on its best day.

            The only good thing is, having done it once you will not need a repeat performance. Your five dollars was well spent, as it makes you a whole lot wiser and more cynical. It might even spur you towards investing in a cookbook or two.

            In the meantime, think what a boon these dinners are to uni students everywhere, managing for themselves for the very first time.

            Yes Virginia … I AM looking after myself. Yeah – and Elvis has just left the building.

 

.oOo.