Sauce Pot!

Keen-eyed readers who like mystery novels and television shows may wish to turn their detective powers onto the heading image and see if they can figure out what we are having for dinner.

Winter has arived in Perth with prescribed burn-offs in the bush and lowering temperatures. The crayfish salad and tiny cold delicacy on the vast white plate has given way to food that will actually fuel the boiler. As the local fast food chains have decided to eliminate taste from their products – having gotten rid of nutrition some years ago – and the pubs have finally given in to their accountants and started charging $ 75 for a piece of steak ( Saw the menu the other night – still on oxygen. ), I’ve decided to make our own dinners.

This dish is no closer to traditional Italian cuisine than the local IGA supermarket shelves. As the checkout girl has dark hair I pretend she is from Milano and that makes it all authentic. If I lived in North Perth or the City of Stirling it might actually be, but I suspect the people who make the sauces and the pasta probably came from there a hundred years ago so we’ll go with that. And none of this nouvelle cuisine serving stuff – when we get a plate of dinner we want more dinner than plate on the table. Oozing over the edge is not considered a flaw.

There will be red wine and it will be extremely cheap. Like $5 for a 2 litre cask. It’s time-expired Yalumba from the local bottle shop and if you drink it without letting it hit your taste buds it is fine. Actually it IS tasty, and the business of ” best by ” dates is a bit of a frandoogle when you are talking about basic blended goon. It is cheaper than drinking lacquer thinner or motor oil.

 

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The Fast Life In The Slow Lane

I try to hit all the stops. And then I really do stop.

Like last Sunday – I was jerked bolt upright at 8:30 AM by the realisation that I did not have to go to work in the cotton fields. Of course we don’t live in Mississippi and I’m retired anyway, but there was still that feeling. And once up, you can’t go back to sleep. The cat will make sure of that.

Then it was off to the shower, the shaver, and the sh….umm..let’s change the subject.

Breakfast. They say we must start the day with a substantial breakfast. Toast is substantial. So is oatmeal. So is rum and motor oil, for that matter. Don’t get near me when I burp.

Out to the Little Workshop. On with the radio. Olde Tyme Wireless from Wireless Hill. So you can avoid the horrid music of millenials by listening to equally vacuous stuff from  baby boomers. And it is true that we pluggers can identify a piece of music from the first two notes – if it is one of the only three that the station owns and plays repeatedly. Anyone fancy a Walk In The Black Forest?

Lunch? Don’t mind if I do. The chicken and celery soup is attractive, seeing as it is left over and doesn’t need any effort to heat up. No-one else in the family will eat it, so I get as much as I want.

Shall I work or shall I nap?

And dinner. I must prepare dinner. Fortunately there is an electric oven and as long as you let things cook over a slow heat they will be fine. Too many people think that an fan-forced oven run at welding temperature will be more efficient, but they are eaters for efficiency, and are welcome to it. I cook for flavour, and if this takes 3 hours rather than a blowtorch, so be it.

And the dinner need not be hurried when it is ready. It’s Sunday night and the family is home and there is nothing more important to do than the roast and three veggies. And the glass of red wine. And of course one must not drive or operate machinery after this. Safety in all things.

 

To Cook The Dinner You Must Be The Dinner

Professional food people – chefs, fry cooks, army chow sergeants – can cook anything at any time, whether they want to do it or not. That is a trait shared with other professionals – the ability to do a job in spite of everything. Amateurs can barely do it when conditions are perfect – pros can do it under fire. I know – I used to be a professional in a profession and I could indeed do the dance.

But back to food – the amateur cook may be feeding themselves alone or may be doing it for the family as well. There may be good facilities or bad ones – lots of ingredients or very few – but there is one thing absolutely necessary for success. The person making the food must want the food.

Not just want it to succeed or look good or taste good for others. They must want to eat it themselves. If they commit to that, they can do it.

Take a simple fried egg…possibly the most complex food known to man. Escoffier deeply feared eggs. Brillat-Savarin would never allow one to cross the road in front of him. And I have heard it said that eggs swear at Gordon Ramsay…

To make a fried egg you need an egg. And heat. And something that prevents the egg, while frying, from adhering to the hot surface. The egg should be fairly fresh – it need not be warm from the chook’s bum, but likewise do not attempt to cook it if it is already pecking at the toast crumbs on the floor. You can check for freshness by floating an egg in a container of benzene, but do not light a match while you are doing it.

The non-stick frying pans work well while the coating is new but become egg-traps as they wear in. Generally you can figure that when the egg slips around and fries with no grease whatsoever, it is because the coating is new and dinner will taste like Love Canal. When the nerve agents and dead cat extract that comprise the non-stick coating wear off the eggs will taste better but you’ll need to get them out of the pan with a wood chisel.

Spray-can release agent is fine and helps many people to make fibreglass canoes from moulds. They can also be used to free that egg.

I favour bacon grease that is leftover from cooking in the pan just before you crack the egg. It’ll let the egg slide about at a certain point and then you can capture it with the egg-slice and get it onto the toast. Best trick of all is the non-stick pan that has tall, heavy sides and bottom, and can be heated in an oven with a griller element above it. You heat the pan, cook the bacon, transfer this to a warmed dish, and then crack the eggs into the hot fat.

Pop it back under the grill and the eggs cook from both sides in half the time. No more slimeys. No more sticking.

The Dishes

Doing the dishes seems to have been the underlying theme through most of my life.

It was one of the first of the ” chores ” that was assigned to me as a kid – in exchange, I suppose, for my weekly allowance. This was never stinted, I might add, and I was as free to spend or save it as my understanding might dictate. But the dishes were always there.

They are still here. Two or three times daily there is a fill up of the basins – detergent in one and fresh in the other, and the results of four people cooking and eating are dealt with. I do not include the cat as a person – I am able to distinguish species – but the cat dishes get done as well.

In truth I should not complain.

a. If I am doing dishes it is because we have eaten. We had enough money to buy food, a stove to cook it on, and plates to bear it. Being fed is better than being hungry, even if you work afterwards as well as before.

b. We have dishes that can stand cleaning. The people who eat off paper plates or flimsy plastic dishes do themselves, the food, and the environment no good.

c. If it was really that onerous a task, we could buy a dishwashing machine. But we’ve never used one that was satisfactory and the addition of another complexity to life is unappetizing. Just scrub and wipe dry.

All this having been said, it is a pleasure sometimes to take a meal elsewhere – a hotel or restaurant – where the staff may pester for tips or to move you on, but they cannot compel you to the soapy water torture. It makes holiday eating a pleasure.

You Cannot Break Eggs Without Making An Omlette

I think that’s how it goes – it’s one of those memes that sounds profound until you say it aloud eight times. I like to say memes aloud on the train as it gets you a seat and space around you.

Idly, if the om of omlette refers to eggs, and the lette part indicates a small thing…is there a full-sized dish of eggs that is just an om? Perhaps an emu or ostrich ? They never tell you these things on the cooking shows.

Tonight we make one with bacon, champignons, and onion bits. Also whatever herbs and spices are in jars in the pantry. It may involve hundreds and thousands or marzipan icing, if the contents of the shelves are anything to go by. Thankfully, I have a wife who can taste it before I do  – as long as I watch to see for any dangerous signs I should be alright.

End of the week menus are always speculative things – they consist of whatever might be left over in the ice box or overlooked on the pantry shelves. Of course, logic will tell you that whatever has been overlooked has been overlooked for a good reason, but desperation cuisine knows no barriers. If it will fit in a pot it can be cooked.

Sometimes the journey is exciting and sometimes hazardous, but always exciting. The old rules about segregating sweet from sour or liquid from solid can be ignored. It is possible to mix oil with water if you put them both into a sponge and eat that. It is an acquired taste.

Of course, the chief contents of the pantry shelves will become depleted over the week – and if you do your shopping once a month the last week can get pretty much like a Mother Goose rhyme. But you can always count on spices – and packets of sample foods that are given out at supermarket promotions. And then it’s simply a matter of combining the jalapeno marshmallows with the dried capers and the contents of the little sushi soy fish for a sensational Saturday breakfast surprise.

This sort of cooking is one of the explanations of why Gordon Ramsay is the way he is.

 

What’s For Dinner?

I used to ask my mother this question with some trepidation – the answer might not be what I wanted to hear. In fact, it frequently wasn’t what I wanted to eat, either, but it took a few years before we adjusted ourselves to an agreement between the cook and the customer.

Essentially it amounted to me agreeing to eat what was on my plate as long as it did not have liver, kidneys, or eggplant. I wasn’t being precious about it – I just could not, and can not, stand the taste or texture of these foods. I could be bent to liverwurst in small doses and like patés nowadays, but steak and kidney pie or liver and bacon was a case of electing to go to bed hungry rather than gag on it.

These days I am the cook, and the question exercises my ingenuity daily. We have plenty of ingredients in the pantry and freezer, and it is just trying to get a variety into the week as well as a balanced meal on a plate. Sometimes the family is out doing things elsewhere and I am cooking for myself – which generally results in a cold cut and cheese sandwich – and sometimes it is two rather than four to table, but if you have ingredients that are divided sufficiently and are warned about the expected crew, you can size things well. I do not want to leave days of leftovers, but a  couple of extra serves is always handy for lunch next day.

I do appreciate the plates being cleaned, as it shows the meal was a hit. I appreciate them being washed and dried even more…

How Many For Dinner?

A simple question, but there is room for pain and suffering between every word.

a. ” Don’t know “. Shall I cook for four or one? Because it does make a difference in the amount of ingredients committed to the pan.

b. ” I’ll be working late”. Well that means you’ll either be eating late or elsewhere or not at all. Shall I cook a soup that can set or a quiche that will not?

c. “I’ll let you know “. If I am going to cook something slow, complex, or hazardous, tell me early in the piece. If you wait until 5:30 for 6:00 you will be getting scrambled eggs on toast. If you tell me at 6:00 neither the eggs nor the toast will be cooked…

d. ” We were going out but we changed our mind “. Oh good. Let me do the mathematics of dividing a two-person dinner, perfectly cooked, into a four-person snack.

e. ” I brought people home “. Good – you divide your guests into the ones who are to be eaten and the ones who get to eat. Let me know and I’ll stoke the oven.

f. ” I decided that I am not hungry “. The leftover pot grows fatter.