Terrible title, I know, but flush with having scored an invaluable list of cool bookstores to check out as a result of a previous post, here's another chance for us to pool our brains. I'm reading Rebecca Solnit's new book at the moment, THE FARAWAY NEARBY. In it she mentions an abiding affection for cooking, noting that "it sometimes seems so pleasurable because it is the opposite of writing; it engages all the senses; it's immediate and unreproducible and then it's complete and eaten and over. The tasks are simple, messy, fragrant and brief, and success and failure are easy to determine".
True that, and there's little more relaxing after a day spent staring at a dispiritingly empty Word document than heading to the kitchen to rustle up some grub. It's not always a success, and you will encounter many a "Dad, what is this?", but it's fun. What helps are the little tricks you pick up over time, generally as a result of screwing something up, and that's what I'm asking for now. Not favorite recipes - though that's not a bad idea, and one I'll doubtless come back to - but the tiny tips, however bleeding obvious, that tilt the balance of probability in your favour.
Here's a random five of mine...
1. Mashed potato is remarkably tolerant of timing. For ages I thought I had to make sure it was ready at the same time as everything else. Not so. Once it's done, it can sit happily in the pan for some time, then brought back to life with a quick reheat, loosened with a little double cream. It's actually better that way. I'll add to this the observations that (a) you want to drain the spuds very well, (b) you should mash before adding butter, and (c) you want a lot of butter, I mean a ton, and should beat it in hard with a wooden spoon. Set aside, then rejuvinate when everything else is ready. 2. Buy good knives. They're worth it. A knife that will take a proper sharpen will make your life so much easier. Dealing with tomatoes and meat in particular will suddenly seem much more feasible. The only more important tools in the kitchen are... see (4) 3. When cooking Christmas dinner - or Thanksgiving, I suppose - don't try to get everything to land at the same time. You'll drive yourself nuts. Instead get the turkey done, then wrap it in foil. It'll very happily stay warm for an hour, relaxing nicely, leaving you free to sort out the vegetables and pan gravy from scratch. The most time-critical dish is the roast potatoes. For mash, see (1). 4. Use your hands. If tidying or preparing meat or fish, don't dick around holding it down with a fork. Millions of years of evolution put hands on the ends of your arms for a reason - there are no better tools on planet Earth. Wash them properly before and after, of course, but otherwise remember that you're eventually going to put whatever it is you're being wussy about in your mouth, and so holding it with your hands should be no big deal. 5. When making burgers, don't mess about adding egg or onion, and steer clear of over-processed beef. Buy decent ground chuck and make sure it's 15% fat, and no leaner. This will help it stay together, and it'll taste a lot better, too.
Bonus tip: don't get into some old skool pan-frying chicken scenario when you're really quite drunk. Sadness may result. Though the scar does look a bit like Kurt Cobain, which is mildly diverting.
So now, it's your turn. Tip me. And pass this thing around... the more the merrier.
ps: This post is in solidarity with one of the great cookery writers of our time, recently revealed to be married to an utter fucktard.