Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I can jump puddles and cook!

Yesterday was my first day beyond my contract. Put another way, I am on sabbatical from gainful employment as I wait for the results of various recent interviews to manifest by way of something tangible. And because I did very little yesterday, waiting as I was for the phone to buzz, I decided to try and prepare a treat for beloved.

To make sense of this post you need to understand that I have never been able to cook, and have never cooked anything more complex than a basic pasta or a steak, with beloved usually doing the veges on the side while patting me on the back like I'm a kid making a mudcastle.

I started by buying two nice-looking fillets of snapper. I didn't have a clue what I'd do with them, but I went to Psarakos market in Thornbury with fish on my mind and made a purchase.

Before I lose any vegan readers at this point I'd like to divert. Cooking is a slow process, so we must wait for the other ingredients to arrive.

I want to congratulate Cristy and Paul from No Pod on their pending poppet. Read this sweet post. Is it still a pod? I'm thinking more of a gourd, becoming an all-out pumpkin before too long.

Beloved has now 'popped', so poppette is hanging out there in her very own baby un-bjorn. I talk to her but she's ignoring me for now. I've warmed up the vocal chords for some belly crooning but can't decide on suitable lullabies other than my kiddy staple- U2's MLK:
Sleep, Sleep tonight
And may your dreams, Be realized
If the thunder cloud, Passes rain
So let it rain, Let it rain
Rain down on here
So let it be, So let it be
Sleep, Sleep tonight
And may your dreams, Be realized
If the thundercloud, Passes rain
So let it rain, Let it rain
Rain down on here...
Well, it's rain on him, or he, or me, depending where you google your lyrics, but I sing 'here'. I have successfully used this on a number of babies; my highlight was a stellar performance in which I put a wailing bub to sleep in a Starbucks in London and basked in adulation and open flirting from 3 yummy mummies. But I digress...

I've never cooked snapper before, have only attempted fish a few times and always just fried or grilled it as is. I mean it, I really can't cook! The fishmongers suggested rolling the fillets in flour first, and that got me thinking (always dangerous). What about if I put stuff in the flour? I poured flour all over a plate then lobbed in some salt, pepper, and then, after tasting it first to ascertain exactly what was meant by 'hot', some cayenne stuff. Just a pinch.

Already out of my depth, I decided I wanted to learn to cook cauliflower cheese to go with it. No, better, why not with Broccoli? I thought this involved about 3 ingredients but in fact the recipe book listed around 200, several of which can only be obtained by hiding on a cliff and mimicking the mating call of lichen.

And, while I'm whinging, why is it so damn hard for these books to give a simple measurement for substances like flour and butter? What's wrong with two tablespoons you bloody food-toff-tossers?! IT'S NOT ME IT'S YOU.

About this time I called beloved for instructions on using our antiquated and suicidal (the upper grill leaps out into space on a regular basis) oven. In the background I could hear her workmates laughing- my attempt at cooking has become the office joke. Ha effing ha! I bang pans around for her entertainment and hang up.

Then I achieved something none of the nongs in restaurants appear to be able to do- I successfully boned my snapper!

Not that way, not the Nine way either. I took a sharp knife and painstakingly- without any damn instructions or experience I might add- removed a line of bones from the very centreline of the fillet. Two particularly stubborn bits I drew out with my teeth!

Why can't they do that at M'sier Ponce's Fish Garden A La Pretonce?

Which brings me, 20 minutes later, to the results. If I may say so myself I cooked the best damn snapper, and one of the best serves of Cauliflower and Broccoli cheese (the dash of Dijon mustard really drew out the flavour!) I've ever eaten!

Bragging, I know, but this is the first complex meal, with sauce and sides all made fresh and involving the actual reading of a recipe, that I have ever cooked. I've been scared of the kitchen my whole life. And that snapper was better than the 3 or more times I've tried it in a restaurant.

It's like I just rode a bike with the training wheels off and pulled a wheelie.

Beloved would have said nice things even if I stuffed it up. She's glad to see me slowly domesticating and learning these basic skills, whatever the result. But last night I scored majorly - her face, as she alternately downed globs of melted cheesy veggies and piscine glory, said that I am in the good books for a long time. A lo-ong time. There will be phone calls to cynical family members.

And for me- lots and lots of 200% prime grade lovin'...

Damn, I might try that again some time!


GS said...

Very good - a basic white sauce , making a roux is an ambitious dish to tackle. Congrats.

More fishy ideas check you my food nazi site. Baked whole fish is really easy, the sardines in polenta with some spices also (though not all pregnant women are into such strong tasting fish) and steaming fillets are as easy as falling off a bike if you have a steamer.

You've set the bar high!

Daniel said...

The whole story sound fishy to me! Bring in the scales of justice to weigh it up. Just as I thought, it's breaming with inconsistencies. Pon my sole! First Plaice.

cristy said...

Congratulations! Just remember - practice makes perfect. The best way to learn is to combine being a very involved kitchen hand (with Beloved at the helm by the sounds of it) and making the occassional foray into solo expeditions with the aid of a good cookbook. Before you know it you will be a master.

The only people who actually cannot cook (as in, cannot learn) are those with no sense of taste or smell.

cristy said...

Oh, and you didn't lose me. My family aren't vegans and I still love them.

TimT said...

Then I achieved something none of the nongs in restaurants appear to be able to do- I successfully boned my snapper!

Bloody hell, Msr. 'Armagnacd, I don't care if you snapped your boner, just don't put these images into my head!

Incidentally, what sort of measurements did these recipe books give you? Me Mum* always has some simple rules handy, like 'One ounce = one tablespoon', which is good except for those recipe books which use freaking metric. (I hate metric!)

*And me Mum always did know best.

Anonymous said...

Good to see you're making use of your time off to do a little living. I should be so smart!

Daniel said...

Armaniac. The team approach had a problem which Blogger didn't tell me about. Comments as per normal. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Make sure you have three things available:

1. cheap but effective kitchen scales

2. One of those rings with table and dessert and parfait and rhino nut measuring spoons on it.

3. a jug with measuring levels in pints, mils and rods, poles, perches and chains on it, preferable cheap and plastic so you can drop it.

Then measurements will never bother you again.

I learnt to cook from books. Once you get into that, you could find yourself sabotaging job interviews so you can stay home.

Peasants around the world cook fabulous meals on kerosene tins in rubbish dumps. Course the carbs come from staggeringly labour intensive work by the women and the children die before they are five, but we can easily adapt these recipes by the addition of a few ingredients. Nutrient, mostly..

Stop now David, its Monday and there's work to do...

- barista

- barista

Anonymous said...

Mr Tiley,and others, slight diversion, but are you aware blogger now supports 'normal' comments where you can give your name and leave a hyperlink?

As I'm doing here?

You hit 'other', instead of anonymous.

On other things thank you for the pointers. Normal blogging to resume v. shortly!

Anonymous said...

Ok i will tell you a very valuable secret that will allow you to make life changing meals and make even less quality meat taste fantastic ( o it does work on Tofu but if going down that track take the time to find somewhere that sells fried tofu- which absorbs marinate so much better)...

Ok here it is...

Marinate meat; it hardly matters what meat and it hardly matters what you marinate it in!! As long as a large part of the marinate is Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, wine (or Soy sauce not both); other things you can include as available: garlic (fresh or preminced), basil (esp if at the end your dish will involve tomatoes), ginger (as garlic), rosemary (esp if making lamb, chilli, curry powder (sparingly), cracked pepper (careful)....

Other things i have used include honey, strawberry jam, green cordial, hp sauce and brown sugar.

Ok to prove it here is my flagship recipe which i ripped off from a restaurant i worked in called Cafe Bella (Darwin c. 1999)... of course i had to reverse engineer the recipe so it really is my own creation ;)

Greek alio.

I very rarely use any measurements at all; but seeing as your a rookie i will include some which do not need to be stuck to rigorously (eg how often can u buy exactly 500g of lamb)....

The recepie is for lamb, but i have done it will beef, steak, roo and veal...

The basic rule is marinate for at least 12 hours; possible to go up to 56 hours... indeed if u marinate for this length of time u can virtually eat the meat straight out of the marinate safely (chemically cooked)... ok i reckon that lost the vegans!

O use a wok for this one!
and close your bedroom doors and open the windows!!



1. 500g meat of your choice.
2. Sun dried tomates (one good handful)- half a jar depending on size of jar.
3. Roasted capsicum (same amount or slightly more. If u can't be bothered roasting your own buy a bottle or simply use normal capsicums but cook for about teh same time as the onion (normally onion is cooked for much longer).

4. Capers (optional- 1/2 handful).

5. One big onion. (i love onion).

6. Snow peas (handful and a half)- often so expensive in darwin i simply omit them.

7. Fetta cheese(one of those little blocks (can't remember maybe 250g). Cut into cubes (about half the size of your thumb).

7a. garnish (optional) spring onion and/or parsley...

8.The marinade. For simplicity use red wine and olive oil almost equal parts (more wine), two teaspoons of garlic or 5 cloves; 4 grinds of pepper. (the marinate needs to cover the meat or else the meat needs to be stirred every few hours to make sure it is all exposed to the marinate.

Method: (meat marinating and preparing)

1. Cut the meat into strips each piece approx the size of your little finger. (or buy pre cut stir fry lamb or beef if you;re lazy).

2. place in a bowl or a sealable container and cover with the olive oil, garlic, red wine and other marinate ingredients. allow this to sit (in fridge) at least 12 hours. It will solidify and look kinda gross but stir it at least once or twice.

3. Very important tip!! I only came up with this idea after having trouble with this dish due to too cold meat. Take the marinating meat out of the fridge at the very least 1 hour before cooking time. Allow to drain on a plate so it is not dripping wet when you go to fry it.

method: (the dish)!

1, Fry the onions in a small amount of olive oil until they start to go translucent (you can spoon the oil off the marinate (it will seperate) but be careful not to get too much of the next layer which may burn (not the end of teh world if u do just more cleaning).

2. add the roast capsicums and simply allow to warm (about 1 min) add all other vegetables the snow peas (as they can be eaten raw) need to be slightly cooked but still crisp (err on the side of undercooking).

3. pour in some of the marinate and warm it all you want it almost boiling and you don't want heaps of liquid maybe what looks like about 1/2 a cup in the wok.

4. decant the whole lot into another pan (unless u have two woks).

5. your wok does not have to be spotless but try to remove vege detritus.

6. turn up the fire under the wok to very high and let it get real hot before carefully laying the meat on different parts of the wok and hearing it sizzle.

7. Warning this will smell really strongly and may send your dog into ecstatic apoplexy.

8. fitting it all may be tricky; if so cook it half at a time. Allow that one side to sear before scraping and stirring ( this meat has been cooked already in the marinate so this part is mainly to sear for crunch and that toasty flavour! Once cooked pour onto the vegies.

9. once all the meat is cooked add it all back into the wok turn the heat to half and stir it together until it's all warm.

10. (the exciting part) turn off the fire and stir in the fetta. you want it to be slightly melted but not too much again too much heat from to pan will lead to lots of cleaning!!

Serving: (will serve 4- good meal including seconds (everyone will want seconds)) or small meal 6.

1.plate up the pasta .

2. Use a large spoon to pour on sauce; try to include some liquid.

3. garnish if you feel like it!

Serve on penne or farfalle pasta only please!! This dish is special!!

Pasta secret: Cook the pasta according to directions or a minute less than cooking time; drain and rinse in cold water. With this secret method you can prepare your pasta even before or at the same time as the sauce. Before serving run the pasta under hot tap before plating.

OMG that was kinda long. Try it out and let me know how u go!! Even when i have botched this one people have raved about it! ;)

Armagnac Esq said...

...wow! I reckon you should make that a post in itself, then I can link it!! Failing that I might repeat it in a post myself, to share with dedicated and much loved readers...

Nim said...


Here is the link on my blog


Hey let me know if u try making it!!