Tag Archives: oil

Cooking lessons 1

A few months ago I was walking through London with a friend of mine. For the sake of the argument let’s call him something implausible like Michael. In the course of conversation two things came up. Firstly, that he was very low on money. Secondly, that he wanted to go to McDonalds because he could get a meal’s worth of food for only five pounds there.

Needless to say I objected rather strongly to this statement. Both to the notion that one can acquire food at McDonalds and to the notion that five pounds for a meal is good value. And so it arised that I would be teaching Michael how to cook.

Michael has now returned from the barbarian lands which he calls home, and so the lessons are to begin. Because it will allow others to benefit from them, and because I’m a total show off, I’ll be doing it via a series of blog posts.

Today is shopping day, and I’m suggesting a list of bare minimals he’ll want to stock before we do this. Spices will come later, as I refuse to instruct anyone to buy spices at a supermarket.

Cooking implements and general kitchen stuff

He actually has most of these, but I’m including it for completeness. Some of these aren’t essential, and one can always improvise, but it’s irritating to have to do so.

  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Frying pan
  • Pot (Having two pots is ideal, but not neccesary)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Cooking spatula.
  • Large sandwich bags
  • Cheese grater
  • Aluminium foil

Cooking essentials

These are the ingredients which I feel it would be useful to always have to hand.

  • Sunflower oil. This can be as cheap as you can find.
  • Garlic puree
  • “Very lazy chillies”
  • Table salt
  • A couple packs of green, brown and red lentils respectively
  • A couple bottles of tomato passata.
  • White rice. Preferably basmati.
  • Stock cubes. Something of midrange quality is likely fine.
  • Bag of cheap white onions.
  • Bag of potatoes
  • Marmite
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar, preferably brown

Not all of these are things I would use. I’ve replaced some of my ingredients with equivalent shortcuts.

Short term stuff

Things which I’d recommend picking up in the short term. This is definitely not a required list, but will give rise to some nice easy starting meals.

  • Eggs
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Fresh fish from the fish counter – if you buy whole fish rather than steak you can find some quite reasonably priced examples.

Other stuff

I like to have the following around, but it’s totally nonessential.

  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Miso (if you get the fish I recommend picking up some of this)
  • Sweet chilli sauce
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Sweet carrots and chickpeas

About a week ago when it was one of my nights to cook for the family I was talking with Boy. The proposed dinner plan was a chestnut and sweet potato curry, and I asked him if he’d be ok with that. He said yes, which I was pleasantly surprised by. Then he said something else.

“It doesn’t really matter what you put in a curry anyway.”

Excuse me?

“Well, once you’ve put the onion and curry powder and stuff in it all tastes the same.”

I can’t remember what I actually said in reply to this, but I suspect it wasn’t more coherent than vague sputtering noises.

Later when eating the curry he observed “See what I mean? You can hardly taste the sweet potato or chestnut.”

On the one hand, he was wrong. The curry was basically chunks of sweet potato and a spicy chestnut sauce. The chestnut was subtle, sure, but chestnut sauces are always mild. On the other hand, he did have a point. My spice selection has become a bit lacking in variety recently. So I’ve been meaning to experiment with more interesting combinations.

Today’s recipe was a case of that. I was hungry and didn’t have any convenient food (and didn’t want eggs, as I had far too many of them yesterday), so I decided to cook something. Here’s how it went.

What I used:

Two largish carrots
Two small onions
Can of kala chana (brown chickpeas)
Handful of raisins
2 tbsp sunflower oil
About 3cm cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamon seeds
4 cloves
2 dried red chillis
1/2 tbsp coarse salt

What I did:

First of all I dry fried all the spices and then ground them in the mortar and pestle. The grumbling about this can be taken as read.

I’d had quite a lot of success with the shredding implement on the food processor yesterday when making the latkes, so rather than fussing around with chopping things I just peeled the carrots and onions and shoved them through it. Instant well chopped carrot and onion for almost no work. I think I could very easily grow to like this attachment…

So, I heated the oil in the pan, added the carrots and onions and fried for a few minutes. Then I added the spices and continued frying it until the carrots had softened somewhat.

At this point I decided it would be a crime not to have raisins with the carrots, so I took a handful of them and added them in and continued frying, adding the kala chana a few minutes later. Fried it for another five minutes or so then took it off the heat and covered it for another five while I heated up the pita bread to eat it with.


Very nice. The combination of sweet and spicy worked very well as usual, and it augmented the flavour of the carrot wonderfully. Also, with the food processor to do most of the work, this was incredibly easy. The spice could possibly have done with being slightly milder. I think when I make it again I’ll only use one chilli.

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I was bored.

I don’t just mean the sort of boredom that arises from not being very interested in what you are doing, I mean the sort of soul crushing mind numbing boredom that rises up from the deep, saps you of all your energy and causes you to reach the point where anything you might do to prevent the boredom just seems like too much work.

As you can imagine, this sort of boredom is a problem. I get it a lot, and being currently unemployed (which will change soon, hurrah! I just need to decide which offer to accept.) while all my friends are gainfully employed in jobs or PhDs, I’m particularly prone to it at the moment. There are plenty of things I could be doing, but if I get into a slump then they all seem like too much effort.

This time however, a solution arose. Lunchtime.

My stomach grumbled. “David”, it said “I hunger. You should feed me.”

“I don’t know. That sounds like a lot of work.

“Yeah, it is. But if you don’t feed me then I’ll be forced to escape from your body and go on a rampage. Millions will die to sate my hunger, and it will be all your fault.”

“Hmm. Well, that would be bad, yes. But I’m still not sure…”

My brain chimed in. “Yes. You should cook something. I’m bored out of your mind here. Cook something new and write it up for ‘Playing with your food’. That way you’ll have an hour or two of entertainment, and your three readers will get something to amuse them as well.”

“Alright, alright. You’ve convinced me.”

When your body parts conspire against you there’s really nothing to do but to go along with their wishes.

Unfortunately I was still uninspired. This needed to be remedied if I were to effectively produce a new meal. So, Robin, to the blogmobile!

My method of finding new cooking blogs to peruse was very simple. I wandered over to Food, in the main… and clicked on every link on the right hand side of the page.

Eventually I settled on this. I’ve heard about latkes before and I keep thinking “Hmm, I should try to make those.” but never get around to it. Well, the time for procrastination was over. Latkes it is.

Purely by chance, somewhere in between deciding on this and cooking it I thought I’d check my weight (I haven’t in months) and noted that I’d somehow managed to drop down to about my desired ideal weight with no conscious effort on my part. Right after christmas and new years.

How much oil was in that recipe again?

Anyway, time for some cooking.

What I used

About 7 small to medium potatoes, peeled
Three small white onions
1/2 tbsp of salt
Two eggs
1/2 a cup of flour
1/2 a cup of sunflower oil
1/2 tsp baking soda

What I did

As you will probably have noticed if you’ve followed the above link, there’s not really an awful lot of resemblance between my ingredients and Debbie’s ingredients. They’re the same sort of things, but the quantities are only tangentially related. This is in part due to my usual tendency to adapt, in part because I peel potatoes on autopilot and peeled far more potatoes than I actually needed before I knew it, and mostly because the recipe was all the way upstairs and it would be so much work to go up and check it.

I used the grateresque attachment for the food processor and got a large pile of shredded potato. As directed I put it into a metal colander and squeezed as much of the juice out as I could, but it was still quite damp. It was at this point I decided to employ low cunning to complete the task and sprinkled the salt over it, mixed it up thoroughly and went to do the onions. These I decided that rather than shredding I would do with the normal processor blades, turning them into more of an onion puree.

As an idle observation, if you run the grater attachment to the food processor and just drop a potato on top of it then it bounces about in an amusing manner. I can’t help but imagine the little potato pleading for its life as it avoids the spinning blades.

But maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I’d decided to mix the Latkes in the kenwood. Why? Because I’m lazy, that’s why. And it’s the same amount of washing up, so why not? I transferred the onion to the kenwood bowl and returned my attention to the potato. The salt had done its work quite admirably and I was able to squeeze a lot more liquid out of it. Having done so I transferred it to the kenwood as well.

I then added the eggs, flour and baking soda and mixed it all up. It produced a batter with a texture fairly similar to my normal pancake mix, which was encouraging.

I then poured the oil into a nonstick pan and heated it. At this point I looked at the pan, slightly disbelieving. Buddha on a pogo stick that’s a lot of oil… I know I have recipes which use almost that much oil, but that’s in a large curry. The sole purpose of this oil is for frying things in. This somehow makes it more alarming.

Anyway, I used a heaped spoonfull of batter for each latke. The pan fit about four of them, and there was enough batter to make eight. I fried them for five minutes on each side until they were a darkish brown.

Towards the point where I wanted to flip the first batch I noticed that the best spatula was currently in a pile of washing up leftover from my brother cooking bacon and egg earlier (the irony amused me briefly). I quickly washed it up and moved to flip the latkes.

Point of reference? Putting a wet spatula into very hot oil isn’t a great idea. Ouch.

Anyway, latkes duly flipped, they cooked for another five minutes and then I transferred them to a plate and put the next batch on.


I was already pretty sure these would be good. They smelled wonderful.

Good lord. They tasted even better. These are really really good.

I’d made far more than I was going to be able to eat, so I rushed upstairs to get the Boy. (‘The Boy’ is my affectionate name for my brother).

“Boy”, says I, “Would you like to try something indescribably delicious?”

The Boy is skeptical. I cook strange and unnatural things, with vegetables and hardly any dead animal to speak of. However upon my description of what a latke is (“It’s basically a pancake made out of shredded potato and onion”) he is convinced to give it a go.

The Boy agrees. They’re really very good. He’s rather full from having had the aforementioned bacon and egg, so he only has one, but I make up for this by having three (and another one halfway through writing this post). The rest will keep to be reheated in the oven later.

So, a definite success. They do generate a lot of washing up, and they do stink up the house, but they taste amazing.

The only thing I would do differently in future is make sure that they really were a quite dark brown. Some of them were slightly undercooked and, while still nice, they were a bit to soft inside and lacked the crispness of the really well cooked ones.

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Badass garlic lentils

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably got an impression of a variety of exotic spices and subtle flavours. You no doubt see me as some sort of culinary master, spending hours slaving away in the kitchen to find the perfect recipe. Most likely you’ve even thought “Wow, that David is godlike in his mastery! I must bear his children!”

Alas, I am here to tell you that this simply isn’t true. Behold my deep, dark secret: Some times I simply can’t be bothered. I don’t have the energy, the ingredients, or the time to put something fancy together, so it’s time to just throw everything in a pot and see what happens. Occasionally, this works.

A frequent theme of this sort of cooking is lentils. It is very easy to produce something edible with lentils – you take a bunch of lentils, you stick ’em in a pot of water, you add stuff for flavouring. Cook until, well, cooked.

The following is an example of this. I won’t even pretend I was measuring things…

What I used:

Garlic, lots (say about 5 cloves)
Coarse sea salt
Green lentils. I guess about 300g, but I’m only going on packet size here.
Stock cube
Very lazy chillies (these appear to be chopped semi-dried chillies preserved in white wine vinegar. They appear to be about two months past their use by date, so I’m doing my best to use them up)
Olive oil
Bay leaves, handful (4? 5?)
About a third of a bottle of sainsbury’s tomato passata

What I did:

Pretty much what it says on the packet. Take lentils, stick them in water. Add a stock cube.

At this point I now hunt around the kitchen for other things to add. You don’t think I planned this do you?

So, first thing I do is add garlic. I roasted this before hand (that’s what the olive oil was for) and crush it slightly before adding it in. Whenever I roast garlic I add a fair bit of coarse sea salt to it as well to draw out the juices.

Now, to give it some flavour I added the bay leaves and thyme.

One of my standard tricks for improving the flavour of stocks is to add marmite to them. If you are unlucky enough to not be British (or Australian, which is practically british but with a better tan) then you might not be familiar with marmite, so let me explain this concept.

The classic ad for marmite which I always remember is you see a man walking along with a sandwich. He passes a homeless person and, feeling sorry for him, gives him half of the sandwich. The homeless person in question takes one bite of the sandwich, spits it out and starts yelling at the man.

Yes. This is an advertisement for the product. Their slogan is “You either love it or you hate it.”

Allow me to clarify further. Marmite is an evil foul smelling black goop with the consistency of tar and the salt content of the dead sea. For reasons of cultural insanity the british choose to spread it on bread and willingly consume it.

It’s actually quite nice.

Basically it’s a yeast extract – originally from the leftovers from making beer. It’s extremely salty and has a nice rich flavour to it when sufficiently diluted (or spread realllly thinly over warm toast and margarine). Consequently when added to a stock it really adds a lot of flavour to it.

I add a dollop of it. A few moments later I happen to notice the vegetable stock packet I’ve used, which proudly declares that it is guaranteed to be yeast free. That’s nice. I add another dollop of marmite for good measure.

Finally, rummaging through the fridge I found the aforementioned lazy chillies. Checked the sell by date, confirmed that they were not now radioactive and decided that the lentils could use a bit of a kick to them. I added them to the stock and left it to cook for a bit longer.

About 10 minutes later I came back to the lentils, tasted them and decided they needed a bit more of a kick, so I added another dollop. At this point the lentils were getting cookedish, so I added the tomato (random bit of trivia: Tomato slows down the cooking process for lentils, so you shouldn’t add it too soon. Of course, so does salt. At this point I suspect the marmite and roasted garlic had contributed enough salt to preserve a rhino). I left it to cook for another 10-20 minutes more and then served.

It was still very liquidy, so it was more of a lentil soup than anything. I took a sip.

Then I coughed and spluttered for a bit and drunk a lot of water to recover.

A bit of a kick? Try a mule’s worth. These lentils kicked my ass. I bravely made a few more attempts at eating them, but simply couldn’t do it.

So, I adopted the standard aga owner’s approach to dealing with culinary disasters. Bung it in the simmering oven and forget about it.

I came back to it the next morning. The water had entirely evaporated off, leaving a slightly moist thing that was nothing so much as bits of brown in brown goo. Still, I shouldn’t judge. Some of my best fr… err. what I mean is that I have a very nice pumpkin and brown lentil stew recipe which resembles nothing so much as raw sewage. You can’t always tell if something is going to be awful by looking at it. So, I plucked up my courage and steeled myself for a bite.


Hey. That’s actually pretty good.

For some reason the extra cooking really mellowed the spiciness. I think this is because the spice was all in the broth and the lentils weren’t getting much of the flavour, but as it cooked the flavour soaked into the lentils. Still, this was by no means a subtle dish – the overriding flavour was garlic, with a strong complementary chilli flavour. Oh yes, and salt. Don’t get me wrong, there were other flavours, but when you’re reduced to considering marmite to be a nuance you know that this here recipe is not for food snobs.

I’ve actually made this again since, and simplified certain steps. Rather than roasting the garlic I just fried it (takes less time and saves washing up), cutting out the salt. I also cut out the thyme and bay leaves because, frankly, you couldn’t taste a thing, and cooked it on a much higher heat than the simmering oven so it didn’t take all night to cook.

So, all in all a nice and simple addition to the recipe book. Takes a while to cook, but it takes a while of being ignored to cook. Definitely one for future nights when I can’t be bothered.

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Pseudo-malaysian rice and lentils

I’ve not been feeling in the mood for experimenting recently, so I haven’t been updating the blog. I feel a bit bad about this, so I thought I’d do something simpler and share one of my ‘standard’ recipes. It won’t be as interesting to read, but its definitely interesting to eat.

This is my version of a malaysian rice dish that someone once cooked for me. He didn’t give me the full recipe, and what he did give me of it is only really approximated in this. I’ve also made my own modifications since.

It’s a nice, relatively easy, rice dish with a great flavour to it. It’s yet another of my flings with mixing sweet, savoury and spicy and I think it does a marvelous job of it. The only reason I would not recommend this recipe to someone is if they don’t like coconut.

The ingredients of this one are a bit vague – I just improvise it with whichever of the fresh spices, etc. I have to hand, so it comes out somewhat different every time.


A couple tbsp of sunflower oil.
2 cups rice
1 cup green lentils
2 or 3 sweet peppers (different colours by preference)
4 or 5 carrots
About a dozen medium sized mushrooms

2 medium red onions
2 red chillies
3 small cloves of garlic
About 5cm of stem ginger
Half of a stick of fresh lemongrass
1 cup dessicated coconut

1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp fresh cumin
1/2 tsp cardamon
2 or 3 cm cinnamon


Cook the rice and lentils until the rice is dry and the lentils are just on the hard side of cooked.

Meanwhile, lightly toast the cumin, cardamon and cinnamon (tearing the cinnamon up into little bits first), crush them and stick them in the food processor. Add the salt, sugar, onions, garlic, chillies, ginger, coconut and lemongrass. Pulse until they are very finely chopped and thoroughly mixed.

Chop the carrots into small cubes (a bit under a cm on a side), the peppers up into mediumish sized squares and slice the mushrooms thinly.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan and add the onion, etc. mix to it. Fry it for about 5-10 minutes, then add the carrots and after another 5 minutes the peppers, and then the mushrooms. Fry until the carrots are no longer crunchy but still not fully cooked, then add the rice and lentils. Continue frying until the rice/lentil mix is fully coated and the carrots are cooked (I use the simmering oven to finish the cooking when I have the aga).

This is better served hot of course, but it’s actually quite nice cold. Also, I usually serve this with a salad to complement it.

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