Confession: I am a terrible cook.
It’s a stupid thing to admit from someone that has been on a TV cooking show. But it’s true – I’d rather step on Lego barefoot than cook dinner.
When it comes to dessert, I’ll happily spend four days researching and crafting the perfect 15-layer cake. But the actual dinner part? Ugh. Spare me.
But now, I’m past the age where it’s a novelty. It’s not a chic statement of individuality, it’s just lazy. I’m bored of noodle tubs. I’ve eaten all the flavours of Lean Cuisine. And there’s only so many times you can have people over for dinner and order in pizzas.
So I’ve decided to change, by starting at the beginning. I picked five really simple and delish recipes – those classics that I keep coming back to. The staple pieces. The great ones that never let us down.
And now here we are, embarking on a journey from a crap-cooking-caterpillar into a bloody beautiful butterfly who can cook a few things nicely.
1. Scrambled eggs.
I used to cook scrambled eggs by thinning them out with some milk, beating the crap out of them and then frying them until they were hard, dry and granular. Mmm.
Then one day, at brunch, I ate the most indecently soft and buttery scrambled eggs. I asked the chef how she made them like that. And she told me: slowly. With lots of butter and cream.
Per person, use 2-3 eggs and 1tbsp of cream, and 5g of salted butter.
- Whisk the eggs with the cream.
- Heat a frying pan over a low flame and melt the butter gently.
- Add the egg mixture and using a wooden spatula, just kind of gently scrape the bottom of the pan so the little bit of egg mixture that sets is constantly stirred into the rest of the egg.
- Continue until the eggs are almost all cooked.
- Don’t overcook them. Remember that the eggs will continue cooking in the pan after you take it off the heat. Add the salt and pepper at the END.
2. A great steak, mate.
A good steak is a beautiful thing: it’s fast, impressive and can be served with a simple salad for a pretty darn good meal. My dad taught me how to cook steak and I every time I do it his voice rings in my ears. He is the steak king.
Here’s how to do it right:
Choose the best cut you can afford (ask the butcher, they know all the things).
- Don’t cook it straight from the fridge. Remove it about 30 mins before cooking so it’s not all cold on the inside.
- Oil the meat more than the grill/pan. Use oil liberally to stop the steak sticking.
- Get your pan really HOT. So hot that when you put the steak on there it will sizzle out with all the sizzle and you can yell “sizzle my nizzle” like the cooking gangsta you are.
- Only turn it over once, when the pink juice comes to the surface. And season it with salt and pepper as it cooks.
- Here’s the important bit – let it rest after you cook it. The heat makes the meat all tense up, so resting allows all the juices to soak back in and do their magic succulent thing. Leave it in a warm place for roughly half the time it was cooked for. Then smack your lips – it’s ready.
3. Mashed potatoes.
Confession: I have served people packet mashed potatoes. I’m not proud. But I dream of cooking mashed potato just like my mum does – fluffy, buttery piles of potato with corned beef and white sauce. Let’s right this wrong.
500g potatoes, peeled and cut into big chunks. Best potatoes are Sebago or Coliban.
50-100 g butter, chilled and diced.
100-150ml cream, warmed up. Or use hot milk.
Salt and pepper.
- Steam the potatoes. YEP. Don’t put them in that big pot of water, the idea is not to get water in them.
- Mash them well. If you have one of those potato ricers, you are home free. They are great. But if you overwork it, and whip it too much, that’s when it becomes like clag.
- Add the butter and the hot cream or milk, and then whip it with a wooden spoon until it’s combined nicely. Add a good bit of salt and pepper. Serve with more butter and salt and pepper. Don’t feel bad about it. It’s a vegetable.
I keep coming back to stir-fry because it’s such a quick and easy dinner and it’s so fun and sizzly that you forget you’re eating vegetables.
But if your stir-fry resembles more of a greyed out, soggy stew, it’s probably because your wok is not hot enough (and also some other basic mistakes).
Here’s how to change that:
- Prepare all your bits. Cut them up because once you start wokking you really don’t have time to leisurely start chopping carrots and wondering if you left the snow peas in the self-checkout section. (Also, cutting things to the same size makes sense, that way it all cooks pretty evenly). And then have everything ready to GO.
- Get your wok HOT. Add some vegetable oil. It should be so hot that it starts smoking.
- Cook things in the right order. Start with the meat, then remove it. Then add the onions, remove them. Then the other vegetables, bit at a time, till they’re all done. The key is to cook small quantities at a time. And keep it all moving. Everything should FRY. Not stew in it’s own juices for ages. Then right at the end add the meat back in for the final heating. And serve straight away like the wok star you are.
5. Poached fruit.
I want to be the type of person that serves poached fruit. Poached pears. Poached peaches. Poaching seems so posh – I ate poached pears at a friend’s dinner party once and thought it was the bee’s knees, and that’s why I keep coming back to it.
It can be served with a bit of vanilla ice cream, or custard, and it makes the house smell divine, and really it’s very easy.
- Make a sugar syrup. You do this by mixing twice as much water to sugar. In other words, 1 litre of water to 500g sugar. Heat this in a saucepan with either some lemon rind, or some vanilla pods that are split lengthwise, or just tap a teaspoon or two of vanilla paste into the pot. Bring this mixture to the boil, then turn off and let the vanilla, or rind, steep in the liquid for about 15 mins.
- Return to the boil and add peeled fruit: whatever you like. Pears would be so nice this time of year. During summer it’s apricots, peaches or nectarines. 1 litre of water should fit 5-6 pears. Allow it to come to a simmer, and then take a piece of greaseproof paper and cover the fruit and syrup. You want to submerge the fruit in the syrup, so you can weigh it down with something. Then switch off the heat and let the fruit cool in the syrup. Serve with ice cream, or, if you’re posh, mascarpone and those edible flowers that they always use on Masterchef.
All these recipes are winners. You’re not deconstructing anything and there’s not a jus or a reduction in sight. So go forth, hungry caterpillar. Make and eat.
What is your favourite easy-peasy, no fail recipe?
Here are some of Instagram’s best foodies to follow, just in case you needed a little more inspiration:
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