Thursday, February 14, 2013

Now We’re Cooking

One of the unforeseen consequences of being made redundant is that I am finally getting to grips with cooking in the UK. This came about because, as the newly delegated loafer, it fell to me to pick up the slack in the housekeeping department, which includes making dinner for my lazy-ass self and my hard-working wife.

This was her idea, and she’s a brave woman for suggesting it because my previous forays into the realm of cookery have generally ended in disaster—culinary equivalents of the Donner Party wherein, instead of being forced to eat one another, we just had to go across the street for a take-away. I’m pleased to report that my more recent efforts are becoming a bit less harrowing.

I credit this with two things, the first of which is the time I can now devote to understanding the British Measuring System. Having been a fairly keen baker in the States, I arrived on these shores with a set of American measuring cups, and my wife brought her British cooking implements into the subsequent partnership. We also have a collection of cookbooks published on either side of the Atlantic, so the first thing one needs to decide before starting a session in the kitchen is whether the cooking will be done in American or British.

Increasingly, the cooking is done in British, which means I have to get the kitchen scales out and weigh ingredients in metric. So instead of adding a nice convenient cup of flour to my dough mix (like a normal person) I have to weigh out 120 grams.

Now, that is all well and good if you know what a gram is or, more to the point, how much it weighs and what that weight might look like in flour-units. This led me—not so long ago—to measure out 100 times more flour than I needed while making white sauce. Instead of calling for half a teaspoon (which I would have immediately understood) the recipe called for 120 milligrams. So I dumped flour on the scale until the needle hit the 120 mark, not realizing those were the marks for grams, not milligrams.

The result was enough b├ęchamel sauce to keep the Welsh Guards in Chicken Cordon Bleu for a month.

Vegetarian Pork Pies:,made from scratch.
Another disadvantage I labor under is the electric stove, which—like all electric stoves—has only two settings: not hot enough and way too hot. So a bit of experimentation is required to render muffins that remain within the “tan” spectrum and keep my meatloaf from coming out of the oven still mooing (or, more recently, still whinnying and stamping its hooves).

I am, however, getting better with practice.

Made these in honor of Valentine's Day. Don't be too impressed,
they are mix-from-a-box cupcakes with aerosol icing.
The other thing that has led to an improvement in my food preparation prowess is the realization that cooking—far from being an exact science—is more of a dark art. As a programmer, I tended to think in absolutes and followed recipes to a fault, but now I understand that as long as you bung most of the ingredients into the mix in roughly the right ratio and cook the results until they stop looking raw and start looking like they are cooked, you generally end up with something palatable.

And if not, there’s always the chippie across the street.

9 comments:

  1. Wow - I'm very impressed with those pies. Except - what the heck is vegetarian pork? Don't tell me it's tofu.

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    1. No tofu!!! Hate the stuff. I didn't use vegetarian pork, I just made pork pies--the shells; that was the hard part--and filled them with some leftover vegetable mish-mash. Very tasty. Next time, now that I know I can make the shells, I'll try the pork filling recipe. Baby steps ;)

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  2. You have got the gist of being a cook! There are so many variables that you just "fly by the seat of your pants". Ovens are never totally accurate and the results can be affected by humidity and air pressure. Some foods weigh more or less depending on water, sugar content or variety--like potatoes. It's sorta like the typically English insistence that there is a difference between putting the milk in before or after the tea--you do what works for you.

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    1. Yeah, it is sort of like writing...you just dive in and hope for the best ;)

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  3. I must know the recipe for vegetarian pork pies!

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    1. As I noted above to EXM, calling them "vegetarian pork pies" was a bit of misnomer; they are just pie shells from a pork pie recipe. Once you make the shell, you can fill it with whatever you choose. In this case it was a veggie compote of some sort that my wife cooked up. And I did make half of them in a meat version. [Now that I am cooking for my wife, I do a lot more vegetarian cooking just because it is easier (my wife, if you haven't guessed, is a vegetarian) and although I find I am not missing meat all that much, I still like to keep some around.]

      The recipe for the pie shells came from this website:
      http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/4925/pork-pie.aspx

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  4. A writer and a cook no less! I'm impressed - someone to take over from Delia (a well know cookery writer in the UK). Given your ancestry I challenge you to make toad in the hole using vegetarian sausages, mainly as I still recollect the look on my American nieces face when we told her that was what was for dinner and she took the title literally.

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    1. No, toad's gotta be meat! ;)

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  5. Good for you, Mike! Those pies do look crispy and delicious.

    You've made me laugh, as always! Love the part about the Welsh Guards ;)

    Cheers,
    Abigail

    www.PictureBritain.com

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