Tuesday, 21 July 2009

making a meal of it

So in my head one of the recurring themes about the trip North has been food. Good food that's also good for us, seasonal warm climate produce and the time to cook and eat with thought. But also the opportunity to do things a bit differently, to get better organised and planned about shopping and cooking, to experiment a bit with the how as well as the what.

And while Julia Child is not my ambition, I think there's some scope here for following Julie Powell's famous example and setting myself a little food oriented project, something I have to live up to. Is there a particular recipe book I'd really like to explore? A regional cuisine? A core ingredient? A technique?

I mean I'm not aiming for Master Chef, but I would like to progress my abilities and lift the overall tenor of our consumption. And I recognise that since the shortest distance between two points isn't always a straight line, a structured project that may seem to take me off track may in fact be the very best way to get to where I want to be.

I've been thinking this through as I look at my recipe book collection and try to decide which if any I really need to take with me. I mean I'll have the internet for goodness sake, but will that really be enough? Is there anything I need to do before I go, are commitments required?

So all you guys out there with your favourite recipes and recipe books, and stories about food and cooking, and tricks and tips and ways you manage the never ending task of keeping families fed and healthy, why don't you tell me.

Tell me what my project should be
Tell me what I should cook
Tell me where I should find my recipes
Tell me what you've learned that's made you a better cook
Tell me

Can you tell I'm missing my sewing machine already?


innercitygarden said...

I decided a while ago, while in a food rut, to learn to make Indian food. My partner already had an Indian cook book, I think he found it on a remainder shelf, and I worked my way through it. It was, coincidentally, a really good tool for dealing with the random veggie box we used to get.

Stephanie is also an essential, for the basic this goes with that information as well as some more adventurous recipes.

How 'bout a "choose one thing you've never bought before" challenge a the shops each week?

Suzy said...

If you do the "one thing you've never bought before" challenge (which sounds like a good one) then the Cooks Companion would be a great book to have with you - more reliable than the internet and great background info on random ingredients.

My favourite day-to-day cook book is Donna Hay off-the-shelf. Her formula of well stocked pantry plus fresh meat and green groceries makes it easy to cook healthy, tasty dinners without too much angst. And the recipes are interesting but aren't the kind of 20-weird-ingredient ones that you'd only cook for a special occasion.

Look forward to reading some cooking posts soon! (and I just reread the comment above and saw that innercitygarden already mentioned stephanie... so I second her).

Gail said...

Master Chef - my kids judge my meals as scrupulously as George and Matt. I've been sent home a few times. Personal favourite foodies are Claudia Roden, Charmain Soloman (Complete Asian & Complete Middle Eastern) and Stephanie Alexander (the big book) The latter is great because you can find recipes based on a key in-season ingredient. But you can't go past Google eg "oranges + recipes". Much more practical than a cook book that you don't want to get dirty. Store recipes on your computer and print out as you need them.

Frogdancer said...

Just thought I'd tell you...

I took the day off today and I asked the boys what they wanted me to make for an after school snack.

They all wanted your chocolate brownies. I've got it in the oven as I type.


trashalou said...

I think if it were me I would have to deal with my fish issues. Just think of all the scope available to you in the warmer seas! Good luck, I shall be following with interest.

Clementine's Shoes said...

I have to second (third?) what others have said and say that there is no way I would go away for 6 months without Stephanie.

Actually I would possibly also add Bill's Everyday to that list- I've cooked many meals from there. Meals for many everyday occasions, and generally all quick and tasty and child friendly. Yes, the more I type about it the more I think that I would take that with me and aim to try out every recipe.

Another option for you though could be to try to cook local- perhaps restrict yourself to ingredients from Qld.

(No, I never would have guessed...)

kim at allconsuming said...

Hate Stephanie, she's so bombastic.

I set myself year long projects - last year (or maybe the year before?) it was to master pastry making.

This year it is bread. And by george it was two weeks ago that I have found the bread recipe to see me to my grave.

A few years back I did a month of Nigella recipes which was fun albeit not for the waistline.

If I had to take one cookbook, or two, it'd have to be something like Campion and Curtis' In the Kitchen and one of my Nigella books. And maybe a Bill Granger. But then the latest Maggie Beer has delivered so many wonderful numbers too.

Because of where you're going I'd be looking for something like a Kylie Kwong number or a challenge to master some bush tucker ingredients.

Heggie said...


For inspiration try the Eumundi Markets - just down the road from Noosa.

Tania said...

I'm lurking for this one. And hoping that all these blindingly good suggestions don't require a move to Noosa to kickstart some new habits.

PS. Er, not that I wouldn't move to Noosa in a heartbeat - it's just the packing scares the bejesus out of me too.

Chef Messy said...

Oooh, I love to cook. I could leave pages and pages of input, but I'll just share a few things that have made my life easier in the kitchen:

1.Keep a garbage bowl handy on your countertop for food scraps, peels, etc. Nothing worse than having to run to and fro from the trash can while you're trying to do other things at the same time.
2. Read recipes straight through before you start. Most of the times when I've ruined my food, it's because surprises cropped up halfway through the process.
3. Crack eggs right on the countertop, instead of on the side of the bowl. You'll get a much cleaner break, which means you'll be less likely to eat shell later on!
4. Any time you cook rice, couscous, steamed veggies, etc., use leftover chicken or beef stock. It will be much tastier.
5. Throw out your measuring cups. This was a hard one for me, but my cooking has gotten much better since I've started trusting myself instead of the numbers on the cups and the spoons. (But this does not hold true for baking, where exact measuring is more important!)
6. Get a good kitchen knife!!! (I'd recommend a Wusthoff Santoku)
7. Don't be afraid to try new or somewhat scary recipes. Your less likely to screw it up than you think, and even if you do you'll learn something.

If I had to get rid of half of my cookbooks, I'd keep the ones by Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, Nigella Lawson, and the Lion House. The Barefoot Contessa would be high on the list, too. But you'd have to really fight me to get me to part with my cookbooks!

travellersyarn said...

I would be very interested to read about family meals that have a high vegetable quotient (not necessarily vegetarian) or local, seasonal food, or Thai food (or all of the above).

David Thompson's Thai Food book would be daunting, but I'm sure that you would learn an amazing amount.

sooz said...

I'm really enjoying the suggestions - keep 'em coming!

Yes, seafood should figure much more in our lives and I intend to do some investigation there - book recommendations?

Like Kim I have some reservations about Stephanie. I've loved that book long and hard, but a few problems recently have cooled me to her.

I'd love to hear more about which Bill Grainger or Maggie Beer, or other aussies.

I'm trying to eat healthier, so mastering pastry or pretty much anything by Nigella are not on the agenda. I know well enough how to cook food I should be having less of! :-)

I'm hoping to go back to making bread regular like, and revive my Thai cooking skills, particularly if I can find more child friendly dishes (though I will find it very hard to go back to buying my Thai aromoatics since I have most of them in my garden, including Kaffir lime leaves! And how do you steam sticky rice without a sticky rice pot and basket?!)

And any good vego ideas?

nicole said...

I think you should totally focus on deserts.
In my experience it doesn't matter if dinner was a burnt mess, as long as desert is spectacular nobody will remember the horrors that came before it ;-)

Lisa said...

My challenge this year has been my daughter becoming a vegetarian. We didn't eat heaps of meat before this, but now we eat none. There's just the two of us here so it doesn't make sense to cook 2 different meals. I've bought a slow cooker for vegie curries and stews, and soups - the last two items won't be any good for you but perhaps you could look into vegie curries/asian style dishes. So fresh and delicious. And I love love love cooking with fruit - simple stuff like bbq'd stone fruit with yoghurt. You'll have lots of scope for that sort of cooking.

innercitygarden said...

If you want more veg, and healthier, then you'll be needing to bookmark http://www.101cookbooks.com/index.html

You could make it six months of veggo Californian-style eating.

Pepija said...

If you are interested in vegetarian cooking, may I suggest Nadine Abensur's "the Crank's bible"?

What a wonderful recipe book, and no, I do not miss my meat when I cook her recipes! This is about the only cookbook that I have seriously considered cooking every recipe from (while still loving my complete works of Nigella). She covers quite a lot, and the allowed ingredients include eggs and chocolate - not strictly vegetarian but that broadens the scope so much more.

Plus, she has moved to Australia from UK, so that should give her a plus point, hehe.