Charlie Smith-Knight gives the culinary challenged advice on how to cut the mustard in the kitchen.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should start by saying that when it comes to food, I am not the person you would ask for advice. I have collected more poor culinary experiences than Imelda Marcos did shoes. I’m your part ‘can’t cook’, part ‘won’t cook’ kind of chef. The sort of person who used to boil lettuce and who considers mash potato and salad cream as a superior sandwich. You get the point.
However, if like me, you’re genetically closer to a wooden spoon than Gordon Ramsey in the kitchen sense, I have discovered some very basic tips to encourage success on those rare occasions where you need to produce something edible for a social situation. These are the lessons I have learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.
This may sound obvious but if you’re flicking through recipes and one of them requires goji berries, Sichuan peppercorns or the cheese of a Belted Galloway born under a full moon, forget it. Keep looking. Sure, it’s fun to branch out and test your limits but if it requires a dictionary and details of the last lunar cycle, you may be trying too hard. The truth is, it won’t be the same if you just wing it when you can’t find what you need. Once I used different sugar in a caramel cake because I didn’t want to keep scouring for the ultra-refined sort and it turns out you can’t do that. That cake is now infamously known as my ‘Curry Poo Cake’, due to its appearance, and it actually had the texture of sand. In essence, buy the actual ingredients and if you’re going to struggle to find them, choose a different recipe. You don’t want to get to the starting line having decided clogs will do because you couldn’t be bothered to find your trainers.
Similarly, have the right equipment for the job. You shouldn’t need to remortgage your house to find a decent food mixer. Equally, don’t assume you have the ability to whisk cream for 20 minutes if you have the upper body strength of a sickly Victorian child. Your partner won’t find your romantic chocolate mousse so appealing if it has the consistency of dribble. Be honest with yourself about how much time and energy you are willing to put in. I am morally opposed to making food that takes longer to cook than it does to eat. Make sure you can finish what you have started so you’re not poking through
the raw bits of a lasagne, trying to work out if your guests have the intestinal integrity of a crocodile. They’ll only forgive you once.
Don’t Overthink It
I consider myself an intelligent person, most of the time, but I do have a tendency to overthink things. Case in point, I once read the instruction ‘remove outer packaging’, to mean don’t remove all the packaging. The result of which is that I removed the box but not the plastic wrapping (which I considered ‘inner packaging’) and essentially, I laminated a pizza. Of course, logically that should have been obvious, but I couldn’t understand why it didn’t just say ‘remove packaging’. Use your common sense and on this occasion think inside the box.
Read your recipe twice and be sure of what you are expected to do. A tablespoon is not the same as a teaspoon. Something that is supposed to be lightly salted can easily taste like it was marinated in the Dead Sea if you’re not careful. If you have the finessing ability of Mr Blobby, take the phrase ‘a pinch’ literally. In my experience garlic and chilli powder are not to be messed with. Beef stroganoff shouldn’t have the power to see off Dracula at a 10 mile radius.
Adapt and Overcome
If you eventually get to the grand unveiling from the oven and find your masterpiece has gone a bit ‘Stars In Your Eyes’- lots of smoke but little substance – don’t worry. Got some light burning round the edges of your cake? Cut it
into a star. Baked your sister a guitar
cake that has become concerningly phallic? Style it out. Life is about overcoming adversity and you have no idea when your near miss is actually a stroke of genius. Presentation is half the battle so be creative. Your meatballs may be under-seasoned, but you might just win them over by moulding them into heart shapes.
The truth is we don’t all possess the same gifts but there’s only so long you can live off Pot Noodles before scurvy kicks in. So don’t be afraid to try. It might be a taste of Greece or it might be a taste of grease. Sometimes you just need to find all the ways it doesn’t work before you find the way it does.
Argos: Aluminium Non-Stick
5 Piece Pan Set £30.
IKEA: STÄM Set of 4 measuring cups £1
ASDA: Salter Set of 3 Bamboo
Paddle Chopping Boards £15.
B&M: Kitchen Measuring Jugs 3pk £5.
Jarrold: Taylors Eye Witness 5 Piece Rubberwood Knife Block £60.
John Lewis: Joseph Joseph Editions Elevate Carousel Set of 6 Utensils £70.
LAKELAND: Bakeware Starter Set £39.99