Why I’ll Never Be A Good Cook

e2e2de800ad56d879c5de0e59c3b423aI always won the ‘progress’ prize at school – never the ‘outrageously gifted’ or abundance of academic and sports prizes that the beautiful head girl with the double-barrelled name won – the girl that all of us boarders had a secret crush on, because she was not only gifted, but surprisingly nice.

 

No, mine was always the prize for trying hard.

 

And deep down it was galling, not because I needed to win first prize to buff up my self-esteem because I’ve always been quite easy on myself, found it easy to convince myself that trying my best is what’s important, but deep down I knew that my dad’s chest would have inflated with pride to know that he had a ‘winner’ for a daughter.

 

It might also have given him with some justification for the fees.

 

I’ve grown up a bit since then and realised that you can’t be great at something just by wishing for it, or trying hard; that talent and ability actually count for quite a bit in the real world.

 

And that is the sad realisation I’ve been forced to come to recently with cooking.

 

You see, I’ve got this shelf of lovely, glossy recipe books that tempt me on a daily basis to do a ‘Gwyneth’ and knock up something perfect that everyone will hate me for; that trick me into believing that I can make something wonderful if I go all Disney and simply believe…

 

In fact, so keen am I to impress the family with my culinary skills, I’ve even managed to adapt to the Borrower-size limitations of the tiniest kitchen that isn’t part of a caravan – yet still nothing goes right.

 

Because you wouldn’t believe the things that can go wrong in my kitchen.

 

I mean, how hard can it be to follow a recipe? I hear myself shout at Masterchef almost every evening. It’s not like I’m trying to make Anna’s Mess or a Croquembouche with all seventy-four fucking instructions and a limited amount of time to knock them up in. I stick to simple, Nigella/Jamie home-style, throw-it-all-together cooking. Yet even that evades me.

 

I’ve never shaken off the reputation I got ten years ago when I made some new, exciting dish, threw the leftovers in the bin, and found a dead fox by the side of it the following morning.

 

After much deliberation I’ve decided that here’s where it all goes horribly pear-shaped:

 

The essential ingredient that I always forget and have to go without or replace with something nothing like it. It’s one of the fundamental reasons for my cooking ‘fails’, and one I’ve found can alter the outcome of a recipe quite dramatically, especially because my first rule of cooking is that a recipe should never have more than six ingredients in the first place. I always have the wrong flour, the wrong sugar, or in the heat of the moment I used the ‘close as’ approach eg. when I substitute a lime for a lemon, syrup for honey…

 

I never have the right equipment. Take the banana and peanut butter muffins I made last week, when I couldn’t be arsed to mash up the banana, then realised that I probably should and used a soup blender to crush them, filing down the inside of the plastic mixing bowl at the same time, so Kurt ended up with a shard of plastic in his mouth.

 

I always think I can improvise. I added potato to a curry last night, which was some kind of mutant potato that had the die-hard properties of a cockroach and refused to soften even after a desperate blasting in the microwave.

 

Timing – I’m a bit of a ‘wing it’ person, forget to put on the timer and still convince myself that five minutes here or there won’t make a difference. It does.

 

Instructions – Who knew that every instruction was important? I miss out certain instructions in the recipe’s method when I think they’re unnecessary, not time-efficient or I’ve already lost interest.

 

I’m a bit sketchy on my cooking techniques and believe that ‘stirring’ is fundamentally ‘stirring’.

 

I get distracted, because I pride myself on being a great multi-tasker – which I am – in any other location than the kitchen and in any other situation than cooking.

 

 

6 ALMOST Healthy Comfort Foods For Middle-Aged Women

It’s one of life’s great ironies that when you enter middle age and have more passion (as well as disposable income) to spend on REALLY AWESOME FOOD, your body suddenly says ‘NO.’

I LOVE FOOD and when I get stressed it’s the first thing I reach for to make me feel better. I wish I was one of those women that burnt off kilos with nervous energy but I’m not.

I have always made food a priority in my life but over the last couple of years even I’ve had to be more careful with what I put in my mouth, for both health and weight reasons.

Luckily, moving closer to the city has opened my eyes to a wealth of ALMOST healthy and comforting new foods, and as I sat munching my way through one of these this morning, I thought I’d share:

 

  1. The Avo and Feta Shack
    Photo by fletchadam at http://www.flickr.com

    Smashed Avocado and crumbled feta on toast, with a splash of zingy lime and salt and pepper. I discovered this brekkie in a cute little café in Double Bay and although it’s obviously carby, it still feels fresh and healthy.

  2. Chicken Larb
    Photo by Ron Dollete

    Thai Chicken Larb – We are surrounded by fantastic Thai restaurants and I love Thai food as much as the next food junkie – especially all those yummy coconut milk sauces. But these days I try to opt for something a little less unkind to the muffin top. What I love about a Larb is the flavor of the fresh lemongrass and coriander mixed with the red onion, chilli and chicken.

  3. Baked Brie
    Photo by Chris Chen

    Spanish Baked Brie – they make this in Small Bar, the cafe NC works in at the end of our street and it is very naughty. They infuse each Brie with chilli and mixed herbs and it melts on the French bread and then straight into your gob. It’s perfect to soak up those first few wines on a Friday night.

  4. Sushimi
    Photo by Ian Riley at http://www.flickr.com

    Japanese Salmon and Tuna Sushimi – to die for, especially with Wasabi. I’ve only discovered Japanese food recently and what I love about it is that it feels so light, it convinces you that it can’t possibly be going straight to your hips. Stay away from the Gyoza, though.

  5. Turkish Gozleme
    Photo by nooschiat

    Turkish Gozleme – THE BEST hangover food EVAR. So maybe this is not the most healthy option but it scores 10/10 in the comfort food department and is a huge hit with my whole family. The Gozleme queues at the markets are cruel but worth the wait. I love the vegetarian spinach and feta version but the rest of the family opt for the spicy meat version.

  6. Banana and Nutella Mexican Wrap

    Dessert – as you know, an exciting and healthy dessert doesn’t exist and I was tempted to put down Churros and say WTF, because Churros actually means ‘comfort’ in Spanish *lying*. But the next best thing for a sugar fix is something NC knocks up when there’s absolutely no food in the house – which is often – and it’s a banana and Nutella toasted wrap; which is a secret recipe that has been passed down our family for generations (or since the sandwich toaster was invented).

 

Bon Appetit!

 

 

My Kitchen Doesn’t Rule, Unfortunately, and The Sorry Tale of Two Baguettes

Morning baguettes
Morning baguettes (Photo credit: Julie70)

I know that my friend didn’t mean it, because she’s one of those really ‘nice’ people that I don’t deserve as a friend. She plants pots of foliage and shit that actually grows and she knows the Latin names of every type of flower as well as making up delicious recipes out of the scraps of leftover food that I would normally give to the dog.

 

 

And let me also say that I love her and that it’s common knowledge among our social network of friends that I can’t cook and that my kitchen certainly doesn’t rule.

 

 

Nevertheless, she demoted me again.

 

 

Last time we were invited to dinner, she asked me to bring the cheese plate.

 

 

That’s right, NOT EVEN A FUCKING SALAD!

 

 

Yesterday, when I asked her what I could bring to lunch, (silently praying that I had done enough to regain my cooking stripes and clawed my way back up to salads), she asked me to bring two baguettes.

 

 

TWO FUCKING BAGUETTES!

 

 

When I got her text, I was confused at first and wrote back anxiously ‘but what else can I bring?’

 

 

‘Nothing,’ she replied, ‘I want you to have the day off’. (While we REAL COOKS make the food).

 

 

Macaroons
Macaroons (Photo credit: aussiegall)

I got a little upset. I mean, she asked our other friend, who really can’t cook and has been known to buy ready-made dessert (THE SHAME!), to bring the cheese plate. And I’m not gloating when I say that she can’t balance different French cheeses with just the right amount of fruit, biscuits and quince in the way I can.

 

 

How the fuck do you make two baguettes look inspiring?

 

 

I asked NC if she thought I’d been ‘served’, in the words of Kurt? She looked at me pitifully for a minute and then being my daughter we set about planning my revenge.

 

 

‘I could make the bread,’ I suggested, and we both laughed all afternoon and poured some more wine.

 

 

We discussed going to Adriano Zumbo’s macaroon shop in Balmain to buy twelve perfect salted caramel macaroons, bashing them up slightly, and then taking them in to the lunch with an ‘Oh, just managed to find some extra time in between my dawn run and breakfast….’

 

 

But I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I took her 6kgs of potatoes from my online food shopping over-order and placed my bread proudly in between her homemade napkins and Casserole de Poussin that was probably baked in unicorn’s blood.

 

 

If you enjoy my very silly blog, you might want to consider voting for me in the Best Australian Blogs Competition here. The very least you can do is to ‘like’ my Facebook page here, where you can share in more inappropriate frivolity with my crazy community.

 

 

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Middle-Aged Brain Sludge and Mashed Potato

English: A small plate with a serving of mashe...
English: A small plate with a serving of mashed potatoes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They’re obviously having a laugh at my expense at the Coles online food store.

 

I reckon the alert for ‘NEWBIE ’ shopper has streamed through from the online processing department to the pickers on the floor by now, and they’re taking bets on what I’m going to over-order next.

 

The family is becoming rather perplexed by the number of core ingredients I forget to buy and the vast quantities of vegetables I have taken to over-ordering in their place.

 

It’s not like I don’t know that a single apple or potato couldn’t possibly weigh a kilo, it’s just that those fuckers at the supermarkets think it’s funny to sell different products in different quantities to trick perpetually rushed and in-a-permanent-state-of-panic women, like me.

 

We don’t even eat potatoes in our house really, so twelve kilos arriving on the doorstep was always going to be a problem.

 

The delivery man had the gall to laugh at me as he unloaded them onto the kitchen floor and then reminded me loudly, and in front of the old man, that I’d made the same mistake with apples the previous week.

 

Just as the family had begun to believe my ruse about new scientific research from The Lancet that proclaimed the health benefits of adding two daily doses of apple puree with your fish oil.

various potato dishes: potato chips, hashbrown...
various potato dishes: potato chips, hashbrowns, tater tots, baked potato, and mashed potatoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

He’s off my Christmas card list.

 

Problem is, I don’t have any real excuse for my lack of attention to detail other than that my middle-aged brain is slowly turning to sludge and, frankly, I have far more interesting shit to do than think about how meal-planning and how many vegetables we are likely to consume in a fucking week.

 

Then again, if I didn’t do the food shop, the whole family would starve.

 

The old man gave me the disappointed parent look that I reserve for the kids, as he cast his eye critically down the receipt to see how much money I’d wasted on potatoes that we would have to offload to friends with normal kids who eat them, unlike mine, while I subconsciously made a note to add mashed potato to every meal over the next two weeks.

 

Got any interesting potato recipes to share?

 

If you enjoy my very silly blog, you might want to consider voting for me in the Best Australian Blogs Competition here. The very least you can do is to ‘like’ my Facebook page here, where you can share in more inappropriate frivolity with my crazy community.

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Mastercheat Cooking: Pavlova For Dummies

Pavlova For DummiesAre you a ‘mum who can’t?’ like me.

Cook, that is.

Don’t worry, help is at hand in this, my Mastercheat series of recipes. You might remember my first recipe which was for Chocolate Refrigerator Cake here.

Well this week’s recipe is another dessert and it’s a corker – I call it my Pavlova for Dummies.

But first, here’s some background info on why I’m such a shit cook and need to cheat with desserts in particular. Then I’ll tell you about how I test-ran this meringue-baby just last weekend.

You see, over the past twelve months I have been forced to watch the old man shed a few kilos whilst goading me daily with his newly toned, sexy physique (his words).

What can I say? Marriage is hard enough without your husband losing weight, especially in the unorthodox way he has done it.

And the changes to his body have caused him to behave in quite a peculiar fashion, particularly when he has his shirt off. He has this tendency to thrust his hairy, middle-aged chest out into my face first thing in the morning and say things like ‘just look at this body, Lou’.

He seems to have forgotten that ‘running’ actually does very little for your pecs and that sadly for me, I’m still faced with the same impressive set of man boobs and belly button fluff that I’ve been staring at for the past twenty-five years.

Another downside of his healthy eating plan is that he has completely sanctioned dessert in our house.

That is, for everyone but HIM. Because healthy eating to the old man still includes a minimum of five desserts per night.

He will brazenly deny that accusation, of course, because he doesn’t seem aware of what constitutes a dessert or how many times he opens the fridge door after dinner when he thinks we’re not looking.

And admittedly, you do need to be fairly creative to find sugar in our house.

Primarily due to Kurt’s ADHD, which is exacerbated by the same passion for sugar as his father but which acts as a mind-altering substance on him, so I buy very little sweet stuff. And on the rare (nightly) occasions when we do need that sugar fix, we generally head down to the local Deli and pay double for a Mars bar in penance for our lack of self-discipline.

I, of course, do not need dessert, because in the interests of my health I have made a vow to replace it with wine fruit.

If he’s lucky the old man might score some fruit, out-of-date yoghurt, an old pot of custard and occasionally some stale cake on offer during his dessert raids, (usually left over from trying to impress guests or NC’s constant stream of student ‘FEED ME NOW’ friends), but there’s very little else.

Cooking With Wine
Cooking With Wine via Ana Salazar Valdes on Pinterest

The dessert games usually commence straight after dinner. His first course will be an apple, followed by a yoghurt ten minutes later. Half an hour later he will begin rooting around in the bowels of the fridge desperate to sate his sugar itch, which is where his creativity truly comes in. Custard is mixed with ice cream, stale cake combined with hundreds and thousands or sometimes those little silver balls from past birthday cake supplies and frosting. Sometimes he goes batshit crazy with frozen fruit, peanut butter, coco powder and jelly.

His ‘kill-me-now’ scenario is when there is absolutely nothing in the pantry apart from my emergency 85% dark chocolate, which he describes as cardboard yet still manages to demolish in one mouthful.

The point of this long diatribe is that the main reason I have had to develop the Mastercheat recipes was because I have a house full of food heathens who all have different palates and needs and so I rarely get the opportunity to be Jamie Oliver in the kitchen.

So when someone asks me to bring dessert to dinner, I tend to get a little strung out. Like last Saturday night.

Which is where my Pavlova for Dummies comes in.

The only good thing about being asked to bring dessert is that most people are shitfaced by the time you serve it and will forgive you a bit of culinary ‘cheating’. Admittedly, the designated drivers can be a bit problematic when they’ve waited all night for a sugar fix, but they’re obviously boring fuckers, so who really cares?

I should mention here also that the only ‘potential fail’ part of this Pav is that it does need to be erected on site, which at the BEGINNING of last Saturday night, didn’t seem like a problem.

Because I was busy getting caught up in the occasion – laughing at my own jokes, being as loud and obnoxious as you can be on bucket loads of white wine and nerves, (when your sugar-intake is coming directly from fermented grapes), and lapping up the accompanying smorgasbord of fabulous Indian nosh that our hostess had obviously lovingly prepared, (for what must have been a month at least).

So the Pav ingredients remained discreetly in my bag.

And understandably, the responsibility of dessert kind of passed me by until about 10.30pm when the old man gave me the look of ‘we need to get you out of here before we lose all our friends’ and we started bidding our farewells. Suddenly my friend pulled me aside and asked me where the dessert was….

‘What dessert?’ I remember thinking in my drunken haze, followed by a ‘FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!’.

Yet this very situation, dear friends, is exactly where the Pavlova For Dummies really comes into its own in Mastercheatery, because I kid you not, I got that baby on the table within five minutes flat.

So here is my gift to you. The recipe for:

Pavlova For Dummies

Ingredients:

Coles or Woolies Pavlova ready-made base

Cream

Manual whisk (plus strong, hot man) or something electrical that does the same job – I think I used a hand-held soup maker in my haste, but it worked

Bag of frozen fruit – that defrosts while you are drinking

Cut up strawberries and blueberries for authenticity

Tin of passion fruit puree if you want to look the biz

Icing Sugar if you REALLY want to look the biz

Method:

Take meringue base out of box as furtively as possible, then conceal the packaging immediately in the recycling bin.

Ask the closest and hottest, young male to whip cream for you. If he’s really hot, give him a manual whisk as it takes a lot longer. Ask him to spread the cream slowly and liberally over the base while you watch prepare the fruit.

Drain frozen fruit and dump on top of the cream.

Conceal frozen fruit with real fruit pieces where necessary.

Drizzle tinned passion fruit puree over the top.

Sift icing sugar over the top for the professional Mastercheat look.

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