For this week’s blog, I thought I’d try and combine a love of cooking with my love of books. I suppose most people are taught to cook, or at least pick up the rudiments of cookery from their mothers. I hope I’m not being sexist when I say that, then again perhaps some people picked up their cookery expertise from their fathers, if it was dad who was the cook of the house.
My earliest memory of cooking something for myself is making tomato soup. Well, perhaps not actually making it but warming up the contents of a can anyway. My next culinary adventure was boiling an egg. I still like those two particular meals, boiled eggs and tomato soup. I once decided to make treacle toffee after seeing a recipe in a summer edition of a comic I used to read and then completely cocked it up. My mother, usually a pretty gentle lady went completely up the wall after I wasted a bag of sugar and caused a total mess in her kitchen. No further cooking assistance from her was ever forthcoming. Even in later life she was a little coy about revealing her culinary secrets. I once asked her how she made such lovely roast beef and after some prodding she told me that she started off, just like all the books say by putting her beef into a hot oven. Later she reduced the temperature but added some water which would help the roast cook.
Mum was a great cook but had a limited repertoire and things like curry and chilli con carne were things completely outside her realm of understanding.
When I left home when I was about nineteen, I bought my first cook book and it’s one I still have today. The Epicure’s book of Steak and Beef Dishes by Marguerite Patten. I think I bought it in a cheap remainder book shop and it’s full of additional recipes I have cut out of magazines or newspaper supplements. It’s my go to book whenever I make a chilli or a bolognese or even a roast dinner. It contains all the rudiments for my favourite meals.
Jamie Oliver made his TV debut in 1999. He was spotted by a TV producer making a documentary about the River Cafe where he was working at the time. His TV show The Naked Chef followed soon after and his cookbook from the series was a best seller. I’ve got quite a few of his cookbooks in my collection which I always refer to when I get down to some serious cookery. In particular I like his 30 minute and 15 minute meal series. In many ways Jamie speaks to the modern cook, the one who likes to try and use fresh produce and not to be always warming up ready made food. The one who has to juggle working and bringing up a family. Not only that, his TV shows are fresh and fast moving and I love his enthusiasm for food and cooking. I think I mentioned a while ago that I recently made a pizza using home made pizza dough. Where did I get the recipe? From one of Jamie’s books of course. His books are pretty popular but there always seem to be plenty of them in the various secondhand book shops that I frequent.
A long time ago, probably back in the 1980’s, I got hooked on Ken Hom’s Chinese cookery programmes. I liked the way Chinese cookery worked, in fact I liked the whole process of preparation and stir frying. I got myself a wok, seasoned it according to Ken’s instructions and started stir frying. I do love it when you see the Chinese chefs stir frying at very high temperatures on TV cookery shows like Ken’s but getting those very high temperatures in a home kitchen is pretty much impossible. I made some nice meals but nothing ever seemed to taste the way it does from the Chinese take away. Perhaps it’s time to drag that wok out of the storeroom and have another go.
Another favourite TV chef was Antonio Carluccio who sadly died in 2017. He had a number of shows on the BBC that combined cookery with travel in Italy. I remember one where he stopped a farmhand who was about to open his sandwich box in some field in the Italian countryside. I say box but in fact it was something wrapped in greaseproof paper, some fresh bread, some tomatoes and some Italian cheese. It looked pretty appetising to me. Antonio once explained that one of my favourite meals, spaghetti bolognese, is something that doesn’t exist in Italy but even so, he showed us how to make an Italian ragu with a mix of beef and pork mince. I use pretty much the same recipe for my bolognese these days.
I do love a good curry but I don’t have any curry cookbooks by famous names. Instead I’ve always relied on this slim volume by Naomi Good. It’s straight to the point and using it I’ve always managed to put together a decent curry. It’s not a curry that falls into any particular category, it’s not a Korma or a Vindaloo, it’s just a basic curry with plenty of spices and usually made with minced beef. Sometimes it comes out pretty hot, sometimes not and I usually finish it off with a good dose of coconut milk. Most of the time I have to confess, I usually return to the basic curry recipe in my very first cookbook.
So what else do I use when I need cooking inspiration? Well, I’ve got a whole lot of bits and pieces of recipes clipped from magazines as I mentioned earlier. Sometimes I just scan through them and have a go at whatever I fancy.
Do you have a favourite cookbook?