1. Poison someone you love, not someone that you need to impress.
  2. Don't cook when you're cold.
  3. A little rest helps everybody.
  4. Enjoy a refreshing change from mushy salad vegies.
  5. If the salad is out when you walk in, walk out.
  6. How to peel a tomato.
  7. Salt is not the enemy.
  8. Don’t start with a cold pan.
  9. Eggshells like eggshells.
  10. Avoid kitchen knife manicures.
  11. Take the shortcut cooking rice.
  12. Food keeps cooking after you have finished.
  13. You have more meals in your kitchen than you probably realise.
  14. Be lazy. Line your baking trays.
  15. Don’t throw out the bits you don’t use.
  16. Drive your partner mad; save lots of takeaway containers.

 

1. Poison someone you love, not someone that you need to impress.

If you’re going to have a crack at an interesting recipe for the first time, give yourself a test run with your parents, your partner, your labrador but not your boss or your future in laws. People (and dogs) who love you, may forgive you.

2. Don’t cook when you’re cold.

Any red meat, fish or poultry should be brought back to room temperature before you cook it. If you want your steak burnt on the outside and raw in the middle, throw it straight into a hot pan from the fridge.

3. A little rest helps everybody.

Most red meat, poultry or even fish benefits from a little ‘rest’ immediately after cooking. Resting allows the fibres to relax and the juices to settle in the protein. The larger the piece of protein, the more important it is to rest it and the longer that it needs. You don’t need to rest garfish fillets or thin veal scallopini, but you certainly do need to give a leg of lamb, a roast chook or a lump of steak a few minutes to get over being cooked. Always rest in a warm place, because cold and rested are very different things.And cover the dish loosely with foil or a clean towel – don’t seal the dish or the food will steam from its own heat.

4. Enjoy a refreshing change from mushy salad vegies.

If you want to use vegetables like snowpeas, brocolli or beans in a salad, blanch them quickly in boiling water, drain them and put them into a big bowl of iced water to stop them cooking. The ice bath is the difference between brilliant looking crisp greens and grey,mushy vegies like grandma used to make.

5. If the salad is out when you walk in, walk out.

Damien Pignolet taught me how to make the perfect green salad a long time ago. Naturally, start with the freshest produce and use only the crisp inner leaves of lettuces. Wash them in cold water and dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner. Put the leaves in a plastic bag and seal, storing them in the fridge for a few days or until the cut ends begin to brown. Make the salad in the bowl you’re serving it in immediately before serving. Mix two or three parts oil to one part vinegar with some salt and pepper for your basic dressing, then add the leaves and toss. Of course, you can add mustard, chopped herbs, rub the bowl with a cut garlic clove, substitute lemon or lime juice for the vinegar or a heap of other variations. There should be just enough dressing to coat the salad, no more, no less.

6. How to peel a tomato.

Not with a vegetable peeler. Make a little cross in the skin of the bottom of the tomato with the point of a sharp knife. Drop into boiling water for ten seconds then remove and place immediately in ice water. The skin should then slip straight off and the tomato should still be firm.

7. Salt is not the enemy.

Salt is good. Salt is your friend. Salt can make things taste good, not just salty. Don’t be afraid of it – I’m talking teaspoons not pinches, though experience is the best teacher. Salt is better at the start of the cooking process than sprinkled over at the end; it seems to bring out the flavours of the other ingredients.

8. Don’t start with a cold pan.

If you put meat into a cold pan or wok, it will stick to it. If you put butter or oil into a cold pan it will burn by the time you get the protein in there. Just heat the pan for a minute, without burning through the bum of it before adding the oil or butter then the other ingredients.

9. Eggshells like eggshells.

If you’re breaking eggs in a bowl and a piece of shell falls in, you will chase it around forever with a metal spoon. If you use half an eggshell to scoop it out, the recalcitrant piece jumps straight in. Go figure?

10. Avoid kitchen knife manicures.

To further your career as a concert pianist, it is best not to chop the ends of your fingers off along with your parsley, onions or whatever. Do what the chefs do and bend the fingers holding the food at the last joint instead of extending your fingers normally.

11. Take the shortcut cooking rice.

Boiling or steaming rice is a bugger to get right in a saucepan. Rice cookers are cheap, easy to clean and absolutely foolproof.They also free up your cooktop for woks and other messy things.

12. Food keeps cooking after you have finished.

The heat from the cooking process keeps cooking food, especially protein (that’s meat, fish and poultry for those of us who failed science at school) after you have removed it from the pan, oven, steamer or whatever. So you need to make allowances, particularly if the food is going to rest for a while. Thick salmon fillets seared in a hot pan will go from very rare to ‘set’ in the middle if left somewhere warm for 10 minutes. Likewise a steak or chicken breast. It comes down to practice – knowing how much to under-cook something, knowing that it will keep cooking until it gets to the table.

13. You have more meals in your kitchen than you probably realise.

Forget about baked beans or a home delivered pizza when you can’t be bothered getting out of your pyjamas. Arborio rice, an onion, chicken stock, parmesan and almost any vegetable or even just a splash of balsamic and you have a proper risotto. Good olive oil, garlic, a leek, ripe tomatoes, basil or parsley, any good pasta and some parmesan or pecorino and you have a flavoursome, simple pasta. And a stale Italian bread roll, ripe tomatoes, basil, oil and balsamic is all you need for a classic peasant bread salad. Keeping quality dried pasta, Arborio rice and a lump of parmesan in the house certainly helps.

14. Be lazy. Line your baking trays.

OK, this sounds like something that grandma would tell you, but lining baking or grilling trays saves scrubbing them to get off the baked on bits. Use baking paper or tinfoil, go right to, or over the edge of the tray and you’ll have another couple of minutes to do more important things, like watching sport.

15. Don’t throw out the bits you don’t use.

It comes with practice, but the green king prawns that you bought for the entrée have heads that will make a wonderful soup or shellfish stock for risottos or sauces. The chicken that you use to make your own stock is then perfect for a chicken pie or the classic chicken sambos. Don’t just think of leftovers as leftovers. A piece of Chinese BBQ pork (char siu) with some egg, rice and spring onions is a long way towards fried rice. Good day-old Italian bread helps make a good bread and tomato salad, and, even leftover spaghetti turns into a pasta frittata with some eggs and parmesan.

16. Drive your partner mad; save lots of takeaway containers.

I have cupboards full of them, and it drives my wife nuts. But… when I’m preparing a dinner party and I want everything done beforehand and stacked in the fridge, they are really useful. From chopped leek and celery for the start of a risotto to peeled prawns to the coulis for the pudding, I go through a million of them. The only problem is eating enough takeaway.