Monday, 16 May 2011

Burger and Damnation!

Well, it's been a while. That's not to say that I haven't been cooking, or indeed eating. If that were the case, I would be dead, which I'd imagine would complicate matters slightly. The simple fact of the matter is that my life has recently become a tragic combination of not really cooking anything very exciting, and actually quite busy - or, rather, valuing my decision to watch my way through the entire Disney oeuvre over my decision to inform people about my quite frankly embarrassing eating habits. Nonetheless, I have bitten the bullet, and also the burger of (relative) culinary success, and feel the need to regale you once again with Kitchen Chat.

For those of you not in Cambridge or unable to feel heat, it has been HOT. Moved by a desperate yearning for a barbecue, whilst tragically inhibited by my crippling fear of fire, college regulations and my lack of a barbecue, we (that is, myself, Emma Of The Butternut Squash, Chilli Katherine and Jacob Who Can Actually Cook Which Is Why He Isn't On Here Very Often) decided to make some burgers. The first problem - Emma is a vegetarian, and I'm not allowed to cook meat in case I give myself some kind of hideous food poisoning thing, so we decided to make our own Quorn burgers. Emma pointed out that it would have been cheaper just to buy Quorn burgers from the shop, ready-made, but THAT'S BORING, and also, they taste like hockey pucks.

It's actually surprisingly easy to make burgers, as I learned. All you need to do is put the mince in a bowl and mix it with egg and a little flour. You have to use your hands to shape the burger, which is kind of disgusting, as this picture bears adequate testimony.

Ugh. Anyway, upon Jacob's advice (did I mention that he KNOWS about cooking? The freak), we also put some herbs and stuff in the burger mix. Because he is fancy, Jacob then made a marinade for the burgers which we were going to cook later, which basically involved putting loads of herbs in a mug half-filled with olive oil, then pouring it over the burgers.

For some reason, we then all decided that it would be a BRILLIANT idea to go to my room and start drinking at half-three in the afternoon. A bottle of Basics vodka may have been consumed. Someone may have drunk said vodka out of half an easter egg. I cannot possibly comment. Anyway, a few hours later, we remembered the burgers and cooked them (well, Jacob did, I was...well, I can't remember what I was doing, but I'm sure it was significant). They were surprisingly good!

Jacob, James and Stephen standing in the fabled Upper G-Staircase Kitchen, a place where dreams are made.

It emerges that I didn't actually take a picture of the finished product, choosing instead to favour blurry 'action shots' of the cooking process, and lots of pictures of my left hand, but take it from me, those burgers were gooooooood.

Tastiness - 9/10 - These were really amazingly tasty. Plus, I had one a few days later which I reheated in the microwave, and it was amazingly tasty and good.
Likeliness to set off a fire alarm -8/10 - It's a good thing I didn't cook these, really. There was FRYING. Don't drink and fry, kids.
Likeliness to cause a fatal coronary, 20 years down the line - 7/10 - Hmmm. I don't think these were -that - unhealthy, although the frying didn't help. I'm just thinking of the vodka....

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Cooking Without Reinbold

A word by way of introduction: Reinbold I am not.  I am however similar in many ways.  Well, a few.  I do English at Robinson, and I display amusing and slightly alarming levels of incompetence in the kitchen.  My name is Emma, and I have appeared in the past on the periphery of Cooking With Reinbold, handling hot oil and dispensing 'helpful' advice.

I have of late – but wherefore I know not – gained what appears, to the casual observer, to be competence in the culinary arts.  Perhaps it was the fear of being lynched by my angry staircase-mates if I set the fire alarm off again, perhaps the mockery of my nearest and dearest, perhaps the conviction that I’ll never find a husband if I can't cook.  It’s not the last one.

Today I’d like to tell you about my chickpea, pumpkin and banana curry.  It was an ill-omened voyage from the start.  I asked the lady in Sainsbury’s if they had any pumpkins.  She laughed in my face.  About half of the ingredients never made it because I didn’t like them, couldn’t find them, or Reinbold protested allergies.  We agreed a butternut squash would be a good surrogate pumpkin.  I carted my compromise ingredients home with many a complaint about not having applied to Sidney Sussex college, which is OPPOSITE SAINSBURY’S.   The butternut squash alone weighed about two kilograms.  I put everything in the cupboard, and forgot about it for a day or two.

I was in the kitchen for in excess of two hours.  It was dire.  I meticulously kept a polar-exploration style log of my thoughts, feelings, obstacles and RAGE.  I attach it below.

Captain's Log
11.45 Onion and garlic chopping is going well.
11.50 I got the squash out of the cupboard.  Like Withnail and the chicken, we regard one another with mutual incomprehension.  I cannot for the life of me work out how to make it dead. 
11.55 I am back in my room, googling 'how to cook butternut squash'.  I picked the sticker off because it seemed like a good start, and there were clues underneath.  I wash the squash.  Now I'm going to try and skin it with a knife and not end up in Addenbrookes Hospital again. 
12.00 The skin is like bark.  I've been whittling it off, but I've had to stop holding it vertically and cutting down after nearly disembowelling myself.  I have made a disgusting vegetabley mess all over the bench. 

12.15 Generally concerned about this enterprise.  Can't shake the conviction that I'm Doing It Wrong.
12.16 It smells like pumpkin - this is a good sign.
12.55 It has taken me an hour and ten minutes so far to accomplish a 25 minute task.  I'm not finished.
1.05 Finally finished 25 minute task. 
1.10 Like Sir Beaumaines, I reek of the kitchen.
1.15 I try a bit.  It's surprisingly edible but very very spicy due to my rather cavalier attitude to measurement of hot curry powder.  I put the bananas in - a mistake?
1.25 I feed Reinbold some.  Her reaction I transliterate as 'HYEURGH' which is a cry of distress rather than disgust.  I also make a similar noise. 
1.35 My neighbour Jessie chances to wander into the kitchen.  I basically launch at her, wooden spoon extended, begging her to eat some of the weird curry.  She humours me, and does not display overt disgust.  This is pleasing to me indeed. 
1.55 With the hurly burly done, I retire to my room.  I reek of fried spices and must wash my hair and change my clothes before going out in public again.

So there you have it.  It lurks still in the fridge (4 days later)*. Also I still have a bruise on my finger off TOO MUCH CHOPPING.  And there have been almost insurmountable technological obstacles in my path.  I have finally tidied the kitchen though.  Next time, I'm just going to stick to pasta. 

Tastiness - ?/10 -Couldn't really taste anything beyond BURNING.  People who are less pathetic than Reinbold and I seemed to esteem it more kindly though.  On the back of their oddly positive responses I will award it a 8.  Even Jacob was nice about it, once the preliminary insults were out of the way.

Likeliness to set off a fire alarm - 6/10 - less related to the food itself, more the fact that Reinbold actually set the microwave away with nothing in at one point.

Likeliness to cause a fatal coronary, 20 years down the line - 3/10 - not a great deal of disgusting stuff in here actually.

*please please come and eat some I want rid of it

Friday, 11 February 2011

Enchilada, Better, Faster, Stronger

I have talked in previous posts about the mid-life crisis mentality I have regarding cooking. As such, it seems only fitting that I've neglected this blog of late; not necessarily for bigger and brighter things, or even for the metaphorical office temp of Facebook (nice bit of catachresis for you English fans there), but just out of general malaise, a lingering desire that perhaps, perhaps I'm never going to get any better at this cooking lark after all. Perhaps all that's left is the heart-attack of Domino's Pizza (or the heartburn at any rate), and the grave. But no! Like Tennyson's 'Ulysses', I must be content 'to seek, to strive, to find, and not to yield'. At any rate, I have been cooking. Sort of.

Last week, I made enchiladas. Well, I say 'made'. I bought one of those kits which are actually a bit of a swizz, as they're basically just tomato puree and cardboard. Nonetheless, it actually seemed to go reasonably OK. As usual, we were using Quorn for non food-poisoning/vegetarian reasons. All you do is fry the Quorn, chuck some sauce and cheese over it, then put it in an oven dish in tortillas like a sort of fancy lasagne and put it in the oven:

 I should mention at this interval that we don't have an oven. Oh, eagle-eyed reader, I know that I said that we DID, because in many ways we do; but what I hadn't realised is that the oven in our kitchen is in fact IMPOSSIBLE TO USE. That's not due to my incompetence (no, really!), but due to the fact that the college have helpfully built the kitchen-cabinetting in front of the oven-lead, trapping the lead and meaning that the oven is functionally useless. It is a placebo. I weep, I mourn. So, anyway, we had to invade someone else's kitchen to make this. His room-mates kept coming in, looking sadly at the desolation, and then leaving quietly.

But, as you can see from this picture, the tortillas weren't actually that bad. They were pretty fiery, due to Emma doing the HAND OF GOD over the pan with the spice packet, and also they had onions in and none of us like onions, but apart from that, they were reasonably tasty. I don't know how I feel about this. I don't know how I feel about anything any more. I'M SO CONFUSED.

Tastiness - 6/10 - Too spicy. But otherwise OK. Emma says that I should say that NOBODY ELSE FOUND THEM TOO SPICY. Well, they were my enchiladas, Emma. MINE.
Likeliness to set off a fire alarm -6/10 - Frying and the use of an oven took place! Thankfully,  we were supervised by Andy and his husband...
Likeliness to cause a fatal coronary, 20 years down the line - 5/10 - Quite a lot of cheese going on there. 

Friday, 7 January 2011

A Dough-tal Disaster

I have a massive crush on Nigel Slater. In my list of gay men upon whom I have a crush, he's right up there with Alan Bennett and Michael Stipe. Anyway, just because I can't cook doesn't mean I don't aspire to, and hence I quite often find myself looking at cookery books. One of my particular favourites is Nigel Slater's 'Real Fast Food', which always tempts me into the kitchen until I read the part where he says 'all but the most hamfisted of cooks should be able to make this' and put the book down in silent shame. It's a bit like the beginning of the Hercules Disney film (a great film, even though it bears about as much resemblance to Greek mythology as that other great historical epic, 'Troy' - you know, with Brad Pitt in a leather skirt? When they kill Menelaus? That angered me. MENELAUS IS MY FAVOURITE.) when an awkward teenage Hercules who doesn't know his own strength manages to mess up just about everything, ultimately destroying his village through his enthusiasm. I am the Hercules of the kitchen. However, unlike Hercules, I am not possessed of a god-sent culinary heritage. I will never slay the Hydra of the Hotpoint Oven. It's tragic, but it's true.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that I was watching Nigel Slater and he had a cool recipe for quick bread, so I thought I'd make some, with the intention of perhaps doing so at college. The reason the bread is so quick is because it's soda bread, and you pre-heat a casserole dish in the oven whilst making the dough so it cooks faster. Apparently the silver box in our staircase kitchen  which I mistook as a device for communicating with Jupiter is in fact a convection oven, so such feats of culinary brilliance are indeed possible at college. Did I mention, the bread has yoghurt in? It sounds gross, but it just makes it sort of moist and delicious. That's plain yoghurt, by the way, not strawberry yoghurt or anything. That would be weird, and probably not quite so moist or delicious, which would be a pity.

You basically jam flour (wholemeal and plain), some salt, sugar and baking soda into a bowl then add the yoghurt slowly, mixing it into a smooth dough. At least, that's what happened when Nigel made it. When I made it, the yoghurt splurted everywhere and the dough went insanely sticky and got stuck to my hands so I looked like one of those tree women from Doctor Who, which is obviously a look I intend to rock at all times. Anyway, I eventually managed to get it to form into a sort of ball and shoved it into the preheated dish (which, by the way, you have to put flour in) and forgot about it for a bit. When I came back and inspected my handiwork, I realised that unlike Nigel's sexy but virtuous loaf, I had made....a massive wonky scone. Nonetheless, I decided to try my handiwork. And it was good...or at least, the first few slices were, and then I cut unto it and saw, in the middle of the loaf, a perfect ball of uncooked dough, like one of those hideous Gala pies one sees at the deli (who on earth buys those monstrosities? I mean, it's such a fucked-up idea! We will take a PIE of MEAT and put an EGG in it! It's just so bizarrely wrong! I don't get this obsession people have with randomly putting eggs in things and it being OK, like salads or scotch eggs. It's NOT OK! It's HIDEOUS! STOP PUTTING EGGS IN PLACES WHERE EGGS SHOULD NOT BE!) So, that was less good. I can't quite face Nigel now. I feel that I've failed him, somehow. Sorry, Nigel.

Tastiness - 5/10 - The ends of the loaf were OK-tasting, even though they were just a Big Scone. But the middle was inedible.
Likeliness to set off a fire alarm -4/10 - I think that as long as you don't forget about the casserole dish in the oven, this one is fairly foolproof. 
Likeliness to cause a fatal coronary, 20 years down the line - 2/10 - It had wholemeal flour in, so it's totally wholesome, innit. Although, to be fair, full-fat Greek yoghurt probably isn't that good for you. Ah well. Swings and roundabouts.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Chilli con Carnage

In a deviation from your regularly scheduled programming, you will be Cooking With Soper today. Like Reinbold, I am a first-year Engling at Robinson, and like Reinbold, my incompetence in the kitchen is staggering. However, I am usually much quieter about my ineptitude. While Lotte produced and blogged the Saucepan Salad for her Engling Come Dine With Me week, I weaselled out of mine altogether. I seem to think that if I simply never cook anything for anyone else ever, people might assume I'm actually a capable – nay, a proficient cook, and I simply choose not to flaunt my ability. Perhaps I'm such a good cook that cooking itself has become tiresome child's play, and I have moved on to astrophysics, dactyliology, or something equally badass.

However, I found myself in a position this holiday where, as a matter of honour, as a matter of duty, I needed to actually produce some food. You see, Thespian Affairs I-IV have been hosted by my friend Jen. Jen is 26, has a house, and actually knows how to cook and things. But, somehow, this happened: “I'LL HAVE IT AT MY PLACE”, said I, blithely ignorant of the fact that this meant I would have to produce a main course for five people. Four of these people are close friends I hadn't seen for a while; if I failed in my mission, they could well die from food poisoning, disown me as a friend, or BOTH. The fifth is my boyfriend, who might find my lack of housewifely potential unacceptable and run off with some girl who has won prizes for her pot roast. So, reader, as you can see, the stakes were high. It's hard out there for a pimp girl who can't cook.

However, before I could have a nervous breakdown, I decided to unleash my secret weapon: my mother, she of the top grade at Cookery O-level, who for years has despaired of my culinary shortcomings. Delighted by what she saw as a newfound interest in cooking (rather than a doomed attempt to pretend to my friends that I'm a functional human being), she decided that I would serve chilli.

Chopping peppers and onions was just about straightforward enough, as was frying the beef, even though in my efforts to turn it over so the other side could brown, I succeeded in launching quite a lot of it across the kitchen. Possibly the highlight of the entire session was the addition of spices, particularly paprika, which was formerly known to me only in its Pringle incarnation. However, the intricacies of preparation were, well, intricate enough that had I not had my mother (who thinks of herself as a Nigella Lawson type, but in teaching me to cook is more like Gordon Ramsay) hovering over me and correcting my errors, I would undoubtedly have been sunk. I did, admittedly, have to portion the chilli out in a mug, because I couldn't find a ladle, but this is a negligible detail.

Tastiness - 7/10 - People ate it. Although the only proper evaluation I could get out of anyone was "it would have been better with lesbians".
Likeliness to set off a fire alarm - 1/10 in my house, but probably 9.9/10 if I ever attempted this within the kiln that is Robinson.
Likeliness to cause a fatal coronary, 20 years down the line - 2/10 - it must be healthy; my mother suggested it.

Friends lost (through death or disowning) with this endeavour - 0! All of them still speak to me, at least.
Casualties - 2 - I burnt my knuckle putting the big silver pot into the oven, and then I knocked a vase over before anyone arrived.

These positive figures are, however, misleading. This would not be a good thing to cook at university. I wouldn't have the time, energy, or enthusiasm to make something this elaborate when I have an essay due and I could just apathetically throw together my faithful pasta carbonara instead. This is why I will never have my own cookery blog, nor will I rise to the dizzy culinary heights that Reinbold someday shall. If she, in her foodie mid-life crisis, is jetting off to the Continent with an office temp called Sandra, I am listening to my wife Irene shout shrilly from the kitchen; but, despite knowing I'm the wrong side of forty and that my bald patch is growing ever larger, all I can muster the energy to do is turn the volume up one more notch on the telly.

This is Katherine's first (and most likely last) guest-blog at Cooking With Reinbold. Her interests include berets, the acquisition of chocolate chip digestives, and Martin Clunes.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Rocky Road To Ruin

You know, it turns out that despite the fact that nobody ever comments, people do actually read this blog. I learned this when I came home from university. Of course, people at Robinson read it, but I attributed that to a combination of my constantly going on about it on Facebook, and the fact that most of them have witnessed the results of my cooking first-hand. But when I came home, people started talking to me about it. Some, of course, mentioned my culinary output in the same breath as 'which is why I've informed Environmental Health', but others seemed almost (almost) admiring. You poor, deluded fools. Now you've encouraged me! Reader, continue in the knowledge that you have only yourselves to blame.

Anyway, the upshot of all this blogging tomfoolery is that my father, who is my friend on Facebook (something of a mixed bag - keeping in contact is good, your parents knowing that your friends call you 'Two-Drinks Winebold' due to your legendary low alcohol-tolerance somewhat less so) showed my dear mama the results of my cooking adventures, who was somewhat horrified by what her middle-born had been producing. Long story short, she keeps muttering darkly about recipes and teaching me to cook simple things, the first of which turned out to be this Rocky Road biscuit, or, as it is known in my family (somewhat less poetically, it must be confessed), Fridge Cake. This really is my sort of cooking. As far as I can understand the process, all you do is melt chocolate, butter and condensed milk together in a bowl, jam in whatever you have to hand (marshmallows, cherries, biscuits, raisins, small children, the meaning of life, the book of Job...the list is endless) and then shove it in the fridge for a bit. I mean, you get a cake and there's literally no cooking required. It's genius. What's more, people actually seemed to like it. I mean, I thought it was a bit disgusting, but a family friend was visiting and ate three pieces. Actually, thinking about it, we haven't heard from him since, but I'm still considering that a result.

So, ratings-wise, the rocky road scores rather well.

Tastiness - 5/10 - Everyone but me liked it. I don't know why I didn't, particularly. Probably just sheer bloody-mindedness.
Likeliness to set off a fire alarm -0/10 - No cooking, as I said. NO COOKING!
Likeliness to cause a fatal coronary, 20 years down the line - 8/10 - There was a lot of chocolate involved. Having said that though, surely the cherries offset it a bit?

But despite this apparent success, I can't help but feel somewhat...unfulfilled. It's as though I'm having a kind of cooking mid-life crisis. I've mastered a basic, I should be happy with what I have...but instead I find myself dyeing my hair and jetting off to the Continent with an office temp called Sandra. Figuratively speaking, this is. I have found myself thumbing through cookery books, dreaming and yearning, yearning and dreaming. Surely this can only end in acrimony and despair? Or is this the dawn of a bright culinary future? Do let me know.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Angel of Delight

My parents visited yesterday. They gazed, vaguely nonplussed, at their middle child, once a cheerful and jolly sort, now a hardened husk of medieval knowledge, ready to unleash a stream of Malorian wisdom at the slightest provocation. Or something. Noticing a spot on my face - well, not so much a spot as an hideous canker - my mother dared to ask me about my level of fruit and vegetable consumption. Recognising that she probably wouldn't accept Appletiser as an acceptable substitute for my 5-a-day (does a can of Appletiser contribute? The can is very misleading. Answers on a postcard to the usual address), I muttered something about carrots and formal hall. But, thinking about it last night, I realised that I have in fact eating strawberries in the form of....ANGEL DELIGHT!

Ah, Angel Delight. I've always liked it, not because of the taste, which is just pink, but because of the strange mystery of how it becomes. One adds a quantity of milk to a packet, bashes it up a bit, and then suddenly a strange solid is born, still part-liquid, a mousse but not quite a mousse. I've always imagined that ambrosia - the food of the gods, rather than the custard variety - is a little like Angel Delight, retaining some its mysterious allure. The packet provides no clue as to how Angel Delight is formed, merely providing an inane series of energetic things one can do whilst waiting for the transubstantiation to occur (well, not quite, but you know what I mean). Upon this occasion, Emma and I found an even better way of making it amazing, by adding cake-sprinkles to the top. Delicious.

Tastiness -8/10 - The pink flavour tastes pink, and the chocolate one tastes brown. The butterscotch one is a hitherto-untested entity.
Likeliness to set off a fire alarm -0/10 - It's just  milk and powder. You'd have to be seriously skilled to cause a fire with that.
Likeliness to cause a fatal coronary, 20 years down the line - 5/10 - Surely all those e-numbers can't be good for you. But the pleasure, ah, the pleasure...

So, it's the end of term. I write this sitting in my disturbingly empty room. I can, for the first time since the beginning of term, see the carpet, and, disconcertingly, it is not the colour that I thought it was. Obviously, the fact that I'm going home to lovely Norfolk tomorrow does threaten to throw a spanner in the works, cooking-wise; however, I am going to attempt to gain some knowledge of the arcane art of cooking from my mother over Christmas, and will document that as and when it occurs. Thanks for reading this, you loons. Next year will bring guestblogs from people like Duncan and Lana who have OVENS. But for now, I'm off to play a dangerous game involving other people's milk (they've gone home for Christmas, so it's fair game), and the remnants of three boxes of cereal which have been in my cupboard all term. Adieu.