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Friday, May 06, 2005

Easiest Fried Rice with Gunk

Fried rice is not a science. However, I have seen some absolute horrors in my life and that’s just boiling the rice! Some people are under the delusion that boil-in-a-bag rice and microwaveable rice is acceptable to serve. Well there is no justification for serving it to others but if it is for your own personal pleasure then you are a person that likes poo and that’s ok, you have a problem but it’s ok, I’m here to help.

Boiled white rice is so easy and goes great with almost everything (except poo). There is no secret but it does take good judgment and patience to get it right. For whatever amount of rice you decide to cook, you always need to put twice the amount of water. However, it is not as simple as one cup rice, two cups water. The way I sometimes do it just to be lazy is to fill the cup of rice with water too, so it’s one cup of water and rice, and then add another cup of water. The way that I was taught to check if I had put the right amount of water in is to stick my finger in the pot (obviously before you switch on the heat) and find the point the rice reaches with another finger and the top of the water with a different finger. The two parts in between should be the same length. To try to make this clearer, if when you stick your finger in the rice comes up one centimetre from the bottom of the pot, then the water should only come up to two centimetres from the bottom of the pot – get it now? Depending on the type of rice you might have to put slightly more or less water but this will come from experience.

When cooking boiled rice, the secret is to leave it alone! One cup of rice usually takes between 15 – 20 minutes. The easiest thing to cook rice with is a rice cooker – this will automatically switch off when the rice is done and it will be perfect every time as long as you get the proportion of rice and water right. If however you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated rice cooker, a pot is fine but requires a little bit more attention. Put everything into the pot and bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid. After about 10 minutes lift the lid to check if all the water has been absorbed and the rice looks fluffy and soft. Don’t remove the lid too often as this will result in unevenly cooked rice – only check when absolutely necessary. Once the rice appears cooked, take it off the heat and leave it to cool down with the lid still on for a further 10 minutes. Your rice should come out perfect and will not stick to the pot.

For, fried rice you should always think in advance because it is best to use one day old rice. This means that you can make plain boiled rice for one meal and leave the extra rice for the next day. That’s two meals sorted! However, I usually can’t be bothered to wait so I don’t care if you don’t either. The reason it is left overnight is so that it has a chance to soak up any remaining moisture, to cool down and therefore allow the grains to separate more easily rather than stick together.

You really can put anything into fried rice so I leave this up to you and your crazy imagination. Some of my favourite combinations include (1) bacon and sweetcorn, (2) finely sliced celery, carrots, onions, sweetcorn and chicken and (3) also just plain with spring onions and garden peas. In my mind, fried rice is not fried rice unless it contains egg but you can choose not to put it in (if you want to be weird).

The procedure is as follows. First heat up your frying pan or wok and add some oil. Let it get hot enough so that it almost starts to smoke – this helps it not to stick unless of course, you’re using a non-stick pan which is an excellent invention and should be used whenever possible! Then add the egg and scramble it. As soon as it is cooked, add the ingredients that you want in it – always raw meat or seafood first before vegetables. Once you have added all the ingredients, make sure they are all just cooked before you then add the rice. At this point it should be made clear that the ingredients you put in will continue to cook with the rice so if you are using ingredients that are already cooked i.e. canned vegetables, it will be best to cook it at the same time as the rice. You need to be quick and keep stirring otherwise things will start to burn!

This actually leads to one way you can cheat which is to cook the ingredients separately and add it to plain fried rice (egg + boiled rice), cooking it together to finish off.

But before you finish, you must remember to season it and most importantly, you need to add soy sauce. Add some salt first to taste but don’t add too much at this point because you still need to add soy sauce. You have a choice of either dark soy sauce or light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce will give it a very dark brown colour but the flavour is quite subtle. It is what is used in most restaurants and takeaways, but I prefer to use light soy sauce because it has stronger flavour so you don’t need as much salt when seasoning. Sometimes I like to use both so that you get the intense flavour of the light soy and the rich colour of the dark soy. Now it is entirely up to you how much soy sauce you want to put in but it is good practice to add a little at a time until you are satisfied. Remember, with light soy sauce you can either use more salt and less sauce or more sauce and less salt. It takes practice to get the balance right, but keep testing as you are making it. I don’t usually like to put too much soy sauce in because I like to be able to taste the flavour of each individual ingredient that I’ve put in. It’s better to use a bit more salt to enhance the flavours rather than mask the flavours with soy sauce. Keep cooking it for a little while longer until you are certain that everything is steaming hot and then you are ready to serve. Now that wasn’t so hard was it!

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Easiest Banana Bread

No more bread? Then let bananas be your salvation. Now I’ve tried this recipe several times and it has not always been successful, but one thing you can count on is that it will always smell great in the oven, inviting all your friends to come over, hopefully bringing the gift of alcohol (Bellevedere please). It actually goes best with fruit and vanilla ice-cream so suggest that they bring that too seeing as you’ve gone to all the trouble of making something special for them!

The ingredients you need for this are simply flour, milk, butter, sugar, eggs, baking soda, baking powder and a ripe banana. I also like to add just a drop of vanilla essence.

During my trials for this recipe I discovered a new fact. I’m not a baking expert so this might be obvious to someone else. Baking soda and baking powder have very different functions. Baking soda helps dough to rise as it’s being made. Baking powder however, helps it to rise in the oven. Now baking powder contains baking soda so you can probably get away with just using that. If you only use baking soda then, as I found out, you’re going to end up with rather flat bread.

I don’t believe in fixed quantities so I’ll simply give you a rough idea and let you experiment - practice makes perfect! First mix half a small cup of sugar and about half a cup of butter together. Then add one egg. Mash up one ripe banana and mix that in too. It has to be ripe otherwise it will not taste as good. Add a drop of vanilla essence if you have any at this point. I actually quite like to use a blender or something similar for this entire process - it mashes everything up so much better and faster. Next add the flour, the baking soda and the baking powder. I would recommend at least one mug of flour and a teaspoon each of soda and powder. Mix it all together. Add some milk if needed if your mixture is too thick. You want it to go into the baking tin without having to force it into shape.

I’ve tried various shapes of baking tin and because of the way it rises in the oven, a rectangular loaf tin is probably best. When it rises, it almost looks like it is a volcano about to erupt. Remember to grease the tin beforehand otherwise it’s a nightmare to get out.

Cooking time will wary depending on the texture of your dough but about 40 minutes at 165 C or 300 F is usually sufficient. Let the oven heat up first before you put it in and always remember to check it! You’ll know when it’s done when the colour turns a nice brown and when you stab it with a knife or fork, making sure you get right to the bottom of the tin, no uncooked dough sticks to it when you pull it out. Now when I say stab, don’t get too excited and leave unsightly holes everywhere - try to be discreet.

When it’s done, the smell is intoxicating. When serving, I like to think that presentation is 90% of the taste, so neatly slice up some fruit to use as garnish. Strawberries go great with this bread so arrange it on top and serve with some vanilla ice cream on the side. Remember this is bread and not cake so it’s better when accompanied with something like fruit, ice cream or jam.

Monday, April 18, 2005

So you've never boiled an egg...

Some people have never had to cook in their lives. There are two main reasons for this - extreme laziness and/or immense wealth. To those that fall in the lazy category, well you're gonna get a shock when mummy and daddy kick you out of the house and you're left to feed yourself on a student budget that most certainly does not cover Friday night expenses! For the fabulously wealthy, well all I can say is that money comes and goes and if you can afford to dine at the Ritz, you can most definitely afford to learn a few simple dishes just in case the stock market crashes or someone decides that money is obsolete.

The recipes that will appear in this blog are simple but effective. They are designed to maximise the contents of your fridge, saving you money and satisfying your stomach. I do not profess to empower you with the skills of a domestic goddess (all bow down to Nigella!) but you will find that cooking is a lot easier than you think and there is no need to follow rigid guidelines in cook books. There are some basic rules but the rest is pure imagination (and just a little bit of raw talent).