New kitchen? No fear

So I have a lot of friends who are students in university already or just about to start. They all know me as ‘the one who cooks a lot’ and one of the questions they all ask me is this:

What am I doing with my life, you know fees are 9k a year now right?

Just kidding it’s usually along the lines of:

What should I buy for my kitchen?

Now, if you’re anything like me what you’ll do is instantly start comparing everything to what your mum has – creuset pot, a juicer, a smoothie maker, and no less than six frying pans. You think you’ll need it all! You worry the meagre amount you have is not nearly enough for the feasts you’ll create. The first thing I’d say is to be reasonable about how much you will cook and spend accordingly, and even then good equipment doesn’t have to cost the earth. My roasting tin was £2.99 and it serves me well, even if I did scrub off the non-stick the first time I used it.

Here’s what I have to cook with in my kitchen currently:
-Two small(ish)saucepans
-One 5L stockpot (the newest addition)
-One (bent) frying pan
-One small knife
-One big knife
-One plastic chopping board
-Roasting tin
-Colander
-Stick blender
-Pestle and mortar
-Measuring jug
-Tiny blender
-Two big plastic spoons, one with slats in it
-Tongs
-Potato masher
-Cake tin
-Tart tins

That’s it. Apart from eating utensils and bowls and things I literally don’t use anything else. Now, if you’re being really savvy you could cut some of those things out, particularly the baking things, and save on the rest. Be reasonable, are you really going to use these things after uni? (Says the girl who spend £80 on a knife). My mum swears that no matter how good the non-stick pan is it’ll wear out eventually so don’t spend money on a good one, buy a cheap one it’s only going to be three years.

Things you’ll really need (even if you don’t cook at all)
-A saucepan
-A non-stick frying pan
-A big spoon
-Some sort of knife
-Some sort of chopping board

I’d argue that’s it. Those three things are the ones I use practically every day and I think every student should own regardless whether they are planning to cook or not. Everything else you can get by without or borrow off someone who has come much more prepared than you.

Extras (if you’re planning to cook a bit)
-Two knives of different sizes
-A large pot for soups and stocks
-A meat and a veg chopping board
-Pestle and mortar
-Stick blender

Really you don’t need much. It’s handy to have a few saucepans so you don’t have to wash them constantly and it’s nice to have a different knife for chopping vegetables and chopping meat but in reality you can get by with the minimum with ease.

Now, onto the crap you really DON’T need.

Completely unnecessary things (and what you can subsidise them with)
1. Juicer/smoothie maker
Don’t even bother. You’ll use it once in that health kick phase one dim and dark Feburary and then never again. They’re awful to clean and when you handwash everything believe me you’ll try to avoid cleaning like the plague.

2. Rolling pin
Use a wine bottle/vodka bottle/water bottle. Literally anything that is cylindrical and can be filled with liquid is now a rolling pin.

3. Pizza tray
We have one of these in my house. It’s awful. It’s basically a circular roasting tray with holes in the bottom which mean it is utterly useless for making anything but home-made pizza. Don’t bother, just get yourself a good roasting tray. Same goes for anything with a specific usage like this.

4. Toastie maker
I may be controversial here but these things, although they do make good toasties, are a waste of time and space. Stick whatever you were going to put in there under the grill with something heavy on top – voila!

5. Colander
Again, weird considering I own one. But a sieve does exactly the same job and has more uses. Sieve over colander any day.

6.Timers
Phone. Use your phone.

7. Rice cooker
I really don’t understand this one. Unless you are cooking industrial amounts of rice you really shouldn’t need one of these. Normal rice cooks exactly the same as pasta.

8.Kitchen ‘gadgets’
This one is vague but it covers a lot of ground. Anything which calls itself a ‘gadget’ should be avoided. Anything you ‘might’ use should be avoided. Anything that does something ‘quick and easy’ that you could do with a knife should be avoided.

I could go on, I probably will go on at some time in the future, but this has been a quick guide to what any student (or any person starting their own kitchen) should start off with. As you go you’ll collect bits and pieces but to begin there’s really not a lot you’ll need.

So go cook!

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Eating out: Zen

So I’m home for Easter holidays and you know what that means? Food food food! And even better is the fact that I don’t have to pay for any of it. This week mum and I decided that because we were good people we deserved good things so we were going to have a night out.

First stop: Fitzwilliam for cocktails. I am a lover of cocktails, in case it wasn’t quite obvious, and alcohol in general; the Fitzwilliam never disappoints for me. The bar is cosy and comfortable with lighting that makes my skin look utterly amazing (and if you’re looking to pick up a wealthy businessman that is the place to go, oh my, they’re always hanging around). There are intimate booths and serving staff who literally are there with a menu the moment you sit down- and I’m a stickler for good service.

Cocktail time:

Grasshopper

-22 ml green creme de menthe

-22ml white creme de cacao
-22ml light cream

Dry Martini

-25 ml Noilly Prat vermouth

-50 ml gin

-5 ml orange bitters

-ice cubes, to mix

-cocktail olive

(Fun fact it’s the amount of vermouth that makes a Martini dry, it’s the amount of olives that makes it dirty, and it’s the glass that separates you from a toothless gin hag from Dickens)

 

Frozen Margarita 

-45 ml tequila

-15 ml orange liquer/triple sec/Curacao
-15 ml lemon juice
-10 ml lime juice
-1 lime wedge
-a dish of coarse salt
-250 g ice (or enough to fill the serving glass)

 

Mojito 

20ml fresh lime juice (or 1-2 limes, chopped)

1 tbsp caster sugar
2-3 tbsp fresh mint leaves, left whole
50ml rum
plenty of crushed ice
330ml glass
fresh mint sprig to garnish

Second stop: Zen. I’d heard so much about this restaurant but I’d never been there before- mainly that the food was great and the upstairs looked like something straight out of the crazy 88s scene in Kill Bill. I’m a lover of Japanese food but it’s so often done badly that I have a tendency to avoid it, plus if you get bad sashimi it’s the worst thing ever.

Link to the menu

The place is friendly and the decor is exactly what you would expect from a Japanese restaurant with bamboo, red, and black wood everywhere. The kitchen is open so the smell is absolutely amazing! Because we went mid-week only the downstairs was open but that didn’t affect the atmosphere which was buzzing and busy. This isn’t a restaurant to have quiet conversation in. The service was prompt but they did take the wine away from the table and left us with empty glasses for a time- and the number of waiters bustling around was distracting at best, annoying at worst.

Onto the most important part- the food! We had a sashimi platter to start, duck filled maki rolls, and a vegetarian tempura basket. Mum has an aversion to the texture of raw fist so I got the whole thing to myself. It was cool but not chilled and the tuna was wonderful. Mum’s tempura was nice but not amazing. The batter was light and crispy as it should be but the vegetables were sliced a little thick so it meant that the sweet potato was doughy and the green pepper was raw in the middle. Out of the six maki rolls I managed to snag one and it was cooked to perfection as well as being brilliant when it’s dipped in soy and wasabi.

Special mention to the cocktails here as well. I had an appletini (one of my all time favourites) and it was out of this world! They make all of their cocktails with fruit juice that they literally juice behind the bar once you order. My only regret is that I didn’t order more.

For my main I had sizzling monkfish tails in a wasabi peppered sauce. As with all sizzling dishes it came out in a wave of noise and beautiful smelling smoke- I do love it when my meal makes a good entrance. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, having no concept of what a wasabi peppered sauce should taste like, but when it was coupled with some sticky steamed rice and it was absolutely amazing. My only sticking point was that there was no separate plate to serve myself to but that it really only me being pedantic.

Overall it was a good meal with great service, and considering we had a bottle of wine and three cocktails the bill was reasonable. Would definitely go back (as long as someone else was picking up the bill ha ha).

7/10

Alcohol and what it actually tastes of: Round 2

It’s time for round two of what alcohol actually tastes of: cocktail special. Let no one tell you that whiskey is smooth or white wine is fruity again because I am here and I am armed with the truth.

Vodka Martini: Alcoholism- just because it’s in a fancy glass with a dash of vermouth doesn’t disguise the fact you’re drinking straight spirits.

Alcopops: Being fourteen and angrily listening to avril lavigne with your friends, pretending you’re hard when in reality your mum bought you those drinks and you’re sitting in her living room.

Schnapps and lemonade: (specifically pear) long afternoons spent on a sunny beach.

Whiskey (the Irish stuff) on the rocks: Pain 

Whisky (the Scottish stuff) on the rocks: Slightly easier to swallow pain. 

Cider: Like fruit juice you’ve just found in the back of the fridge and aren’t sure how long it’s been there so you take a sip just to check, realising as you do it that it’s been there for at least two months.

Disaronno and soft drink:  Danger. Once you add it to your drink you suddenly think you can take over the world and that dancing is a good idea

Gin & Tonic: A cold shower after a long hot day

Appletini: Getting far too drunk far too fast because you made the fatal mistake of making yourself one right before the drinking games started

Okay maybe some of these aren’t strictly cocktails and I think my father would murder me if he ever saw me drinking whiskey on the rocks. Always remember that all the best times start with a cocktail.

Roasted Mackerel with Garlic and Paprika

Well this was certainly a revelation. I’ve always loved mackerel and I thought there was no other way to eat it but with a salad or (if I was feeling really fancy) as smoked mackerel pate. Little did I know this super quick and utterly delicious taste sensation was out there waiting for me.

Ingredients

-2 garlic cloves, peeled

-2 tsp paprika

-1 tsp salt

-olive oil

-2 mackerel fillets, skin on

-450g of new potatoes (this was for 4 people but I love leftovers)

For the vinaigrette:

-Pinch of saffron (you know how expensive that shit is? Very. That’s how expensive)

-1 tbs white wine vinegar

-1 tsp Dijon mustard

-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

-salt and pepper

 

Method

(Preheat oven at gas mark 7/220C)

1. Pound paprika, garlic and salt in a mortar until you have a smooth paste. Add some olive oil then rub all over the flesh side of the fish.

2. Make the vinaigrette (put everything in a bowl and whisk)

3. Line baking tray with tin foil and some olive oil. Lay mackerel skin side up, slash and season. Roast for 8-10 mins at gas mark 7/220C

4. Boil potatoes in large pan of salted water for 15 mins. Drain and return to pan with a little vinaigrette. Crush and season.

 

 

Verdict: Oh my. OH MY. This was utterly delicious and I just wanted to keep eating and eating and eating. Did have quite a lot of leftovers (especially potatoes) but this was even nicer the next day and the vinaigrette was to die for! Love this recipe and will definitely make it again sometime soon. Must get a ‘hall of fame’ book soon so I can put all my favourites in

So I study creative writing…

And today for my poetry workshop the prompt was ‘cooking’. Everyone there seemed to like what I wrote so now I feel brave enough to publish it here

Cooking

In front of you there are a number of things,

Implements of a task assigned to your gender

By old laws that make little sense.

They lie in wait for your able hands

for this is not the first time you have danced through smoke and flames.

Nor will it be the last.

 

Raw flesh

carved up by knives sharp enough to disfigure bone,

blood still leaking,

staining your fingertips with gore.

Your canvas.

 

A slab of metal

a liquid that burns two hundred and thirty two degrees

(don’t get it on your skin

your hands are scarred enough.)

Those are your tools.

 

A crystallised ocean and the fruit of a flowering vine,

apples of the earth shorn of their skin,

a glass of blood.

This is your palate.

 

Your art is your meal.

But why take pride in a hobby

When there are wars to be fought?

Money to be earned?

 

Subjection is not a passive beast,

It hungers always.

But why feed it from conventions

That should have died after the second wave

When art is so much more filling?

Not just one canvas

But a thousand,

A million.

Why is ‘different’ still defined by what you create?

 

(To some of my family who have never read anything I’ve ever written: hello.)

Chickpea and Mushroom curry

For my first foray into vegan cooking I thought I would go for something a little more simple, and something that is guaranteed to be tasty because really where can you go wrong with curry spices?

Ingredients

-1 large onion, diced

-Olive oil

-2 cloves garlic, crushed

-2 large tomatoes, chopped

-Salt

-1 tsp turmeric powder

-1 tsp garam masala

-Chilli powder or finely sliced red chilli to taste (red chilli because chilli powder is for wimps)

-1 tin (420g) chickpeas, drained

-1lb2oz (500g) mushrooms, sliced

-2 tbsp water

-2-3 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped

Method

1. Fry onion in oil until soft. Add garlic and chopped tomato. After 2-3 minutes stir in a pinch of salt and the spices.

2. Add sliced chilli, chickpeas, mushrooms and water. Simmer with the lid on until mushrooms are soft.

3. Mix half the chopped coriander leaves into the dish and sprinkle the rest on top before serving. Season to taste.

Verdict

Meh. Really it wasn’t anything spectacular but it was filling and pretty quick to make. Have to say if I’m going to the effort of chopping onions and peeling garlic I’m just going to make a pasta sauce instead.

Tasted nice the first time round. And from then on the taste just deteriorated until I was forced to throw the last portion in the bin.

Not my best meal ever.

VEGAN FOOD *dramatic piano chords*

(The Christmas post is taking longer than I thought it would. At the rate I’m going it might be done sometime around February)

Back to topic. 

As a sort of new years resolution to myself I said I was going to experiment more with the food I eat. There are two vegetarians currently living in my flat so I was definitely going to give that a go but I decided I was going to push it one step further and try vegan. Now the original plan was a week of veggie followed by a week of vegan.

But I’d failed to take into consideration exam season.

And vegan means no chocolate. Not going to happen.

So henceforth my menus will work out as:

-Monday: Meat free

-Wednesday: Vegan (pronounced with a russian accent because alliteration) 

-Friday: Fish

 

Up next: Vegan Curry

Christmas dinner (or, how I managed to talk myself into cooking for everyone)

So it’s this time of the year again and of course the best part is the food am I right? Right. So the flat is decorated and the christmas tree is up and the only thing left to sort out was a meal. Now I can honestly say that Christmas dinner is one of my favourites but when you get it in a restaurant it’s nearly always disappointing; it’s just mass produced and claggy. So when the suggestion to go out for Christmas dinner was put forth to my flatmates I, foolishly, jumped at the opportunity to say ‘I’ll cook it sure’

There are going to be nine people. (Update: No wait there’s now twelve)

NINE!   TWELVE

I’ve only ever cooked for maximum of three before so this should be interesting. But if my mum can serve and seat fourteen at our eight seat table then who’s to say I can’t do a measly nine?

Stay tuned for me setting the kitchen on fire and everyone ordering pizza.

BBC Good Food Show 2013

Can I just go back and stay forever and ever? Please? I won’t be much trouble I promise. This show was my idea of heaven and I honestly did not want to leave at the end of the day. There were so many stalls and people and freebies that I thought my head was going to explode. We ate and ate and ate, then ate a little more; then had a nap and went out for dinner.

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I think my head would have exploded if this were real

I now cannot fit into my jeans but that is not the point.

The day started at roughly 6am with some random building work going on just outside our super warm hotel room. What a lovely way to be woken up. Mum and I promptly went back to sleep and despite our wine soaked agreement that we would be waiting in the lobby for Auntie Louise at 9.00 sharp we rolled out of the hotel at what was more like 9.45. The NRC, where the show was being held, was only a short monorail (we sang: monorail! over and over) ride away.

After that strenuous journey mum and I had a restorative sausage bap in Wetherspoons. Then, we plunged into the show.

PEOPLE SOUP.

Didn’t stop me elbowing elderly folk out of the way to get a bite of smoked cheddar or spicy peanut butter. Grabbed everything I could get my grubby little paws on and shoved it into my gob. There were just too many delicious things to try! Agreed to meet mum at the end of each row for fear of a ‘where’s my mummy?’ moment (because, as we all know, I’m a perfectly competent adult until my mother turns up, at which point I revert to being roughly ten years old again).

One thing I was amazed at was the diversity of the people there. Somehow I had got it into my head that it would be full of blue rinses and bald heads but there were so many young people as well. Albeit a lot of them were rowdy schoolchildren trying desperately to try some of the alcohol and stealing all the free samples with no intention of buying. It was really lovely to see such a diverse crowd.

*

Wishlist:

-A set of knives so sharp I could cut my finger off and not notice. (Most expensive set spotted: £2000)

-All of the flavoured rapeseed oils from every counter. (Best one: Lemon flavour from Supernature)

-Smoked salmon from the Harbor Salmon Co.

-A day cooking school with Michel Roux Jr. (Cost: £900)

-Every spice from the Fox’s Spices counter

-Michel Roux Jr to come in my kitchen and cook  for me all the time

Now are those things too much to ask?  I don’t think so. In fact I would go as far as to say they are completely necessary.

I went to the good food show and I bought:

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-Polish honeycomb vodka (which, if you’d like to know, tastes like danger. It’s too nice for its own good)

-A bottle of chilli flavoured liquear (tastes like a kick up the arse)

-A bottle of blackcurrant liquear (tastes like my friend Jacqui)

-Three different cheddar cheeses. One with red chillies in it, one with green chillies, and one smoked.

-A packet of kaffir lime leaves

 -A jar of the best garlic mayo known to man

-A packet of mystery curry

-A jar of tomato and basil sauce

And you know what? I don’t want to share with anyone. Even if all of the flatmates are now climbing over each other to get a sip of the honeycomb vodka. It’s currently hidden in my cupboard but how long that will last I have no idea.

*

As the day wore on and I continually stuffed my face with everything I could get my hands on there was bound to be at least one disaster. All those different tastes and flavours all combining in your mouth at once made the palate a little crowded after a while (get me using the fancy terminology). Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

I have one word: Oysters.

Or, as they should be called, the devil’s food.

Being the naive person that I am I believed that oysters were a delicacy of the upper classes, almost like caviar (ew) or champagne (yum). That they may be but that does not stop them tasting like a putrid mouthful of the Irish Sea. Why anyone would do that to themselves not only voluntarily but pay a ridiculous amount to do so, I have no idea. Now there’s something I will never be eating again.

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Highlight of the day: Auntie Louise getting to go up on the Saturday Kitchen stage and eat some gorgeous lobster cooked for her by Theo Randall himself. 

In all it was a wonderful day and I would thoroughly recommend it for all foodies out there. All I’ll say is bring an appetite and your wallet because you’re going to want to buy everything you see.

So, here I am back in uni again after saying goodbye to my mum and auntie. Bit sad so I’m going to cook some extra lovely things this week to cheer myself up. Only two weeks until I’m back in my mum’s kitchen again!