Monday, 14 December 2009

Cooking without waste 2: Basic recipes

This is the second guest post on frugal cooking from Jian.
Every culture and person in the world is going to have a different idea of what a basic recipe is, depending on their answers to the questions in my last post. What might be best, would be for me to talk about what we tend to use, and how we've answered the above questions.
1)Penny and I chop and change our preferred recipes a lot; this comes of reading the paper and recipe books a bit too much, I guess. Still, our basic recipes tend to stay fairly stable, mainly because they're reliable, comforting, and easily made from long-lasting ingredients.
2)I'm quite an improviser myself; I prefer to learn basic principles through practice and then never follow the recipe, and don't plan ahead much. Penny follows the recipes closely, adapting and changing based on experience and common sense, and prefers to plan ahead.
3)We cook for two. It's a very easy number.
4)We have a hob, grill, and oven. We have a kettle, toaster, food processor, blender, rice cooker, and microwave. We have a fridge-freezer. We shop at various supermarkets (Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose) and at the local farm shop, which I think came up in a previous post.
The basic recipes we most often use are:
1)Tomato sauce for pasta, which Penny's mentioned before. Basically needs onions and tinned tomatoes, which both keep well. Useful as the base for a hundred and one meals, including bolognese, chili con carne, puttanesca, jambalaya, vodka-sauce pasta, minestrone, lasagna, ratatouille, and bouillabaisse. Like all basic recipes, practice often to make it as reliably as possible; it's difficult to screw up.
2)Noodle soup. I suppose you could use a packet but really I mean good stock, probably some miso, and dry noodles (of any kind; egg noodle, ramen/lo men/ramyun/etc,, soba, thin rice noodles, thick rice noodles, udon, or even spaghetti or linguini). Add any chopped vegetables (spring onions, peppers, mushrooms, bok choy, bean sprouts), sliced grilled or fried meat (teriyaki beef, grilled or foil-baked salmon, marinated or char sui pork), and anything else that fits with the sort of taste you're going for (seaweed, won ton, a raw egg or two, coconut milk, ground peanuts, chilli peppers, lemongrass, ginger, kimchi) to endlessly customise into a quick, simple, warming meal. For a different take in the summer, try it with soba, cold clear stock, sliced cucumber and pear, and ice: nengmyun. Sometimes, though, only packet ramen will do.
3)Chips. By which I mean oven-baked thick fingers of potato, made like roast potatoes (which, indeed, basically differ only in shape and are more appropriate for some dishes, like roasts). Basically, take some floury potatoes (waxy ones will do, but work less well), peel, and cut into the shapes you want (more or less even and about 2” across for roast potatoes, or long and more like 1” thick for chips). Meanwhile, heat the oven to about 200 and put in a suitable oven dish with some oil in the bottom. Parboil for 5-10 minutes, drain, and then put back in the pan with the lid and shake about so it goes all fluffy on the surface. Add oil (and salt and pepper and even occasionally a dash of chili oil, but that's just me) in the pan and shake to coat evenly. Put in the pre-heated oven pan and cook for about 40 minutes, turning over once or twice, until nicely and unevenly browned and crispy. Serve with suitable main (sausages, with or without some good greens such as green beans or steamed green or black cabbage, or with braised red cabbage; steak, of course; home-made battered fish, occasionally), or as the main focus (chips with two boiled eggs and a nice salad or well-seasoned vegetable like beetroot, red cabbage, or mushy peas work very well).
4)Stew. Now, this takes a while, so it's not really one for the weekday evenings unless you have a crock-pot (which we don't) and can cook it all day beforehand. But diced floured meat (beef or lamb, usually), potatoes, carrots, onions, tinned tomatoes, stock, herbs, maybe some barley, maybe parsnips – hard to go wrong. I quite like making it with a herby scone topping (like a cobbler, but savoury), or with additional spices and flavours (they have to be fairly sturdy to make it through the overwhelming lovely meaty-vegetably goodness) like oranges, chorizo, or chili pepper. Still, a bit wintry and rib-sticking, you wouldn't want it every day.
5)Prepared food. Sometimes, you want to bake fresh bread and cook all day from scratch with beautiful organic local fresh ingredients. Sometimes, you just want beans on toast in five minutes. And there's nothing wrong with that.

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