Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rockaliser Baby

I enjoy cooking. I've always seen good food as one of life's pleasures. Eat what you like, what floats your boat, and in moderation, using good quality ingredients, you will live as long and as healthily (but probably much more happily) as anyone else. Food should be a pleasure, not a regimen. It's a physical experience and you should concentrate on getting the most out of it.

People assume single men survive on takeaways, TV dinners and toast. Now I'll admit toast plays a part in my diet but I can't remember the last time I bought a takeaway and the idea of eating something brewed up in an industrial vat somewhere, cook-chilled, given a poncy title and some fancy packaging and stuck on the shelf of Waitrose or M & S at £4.99 has never appealed. More and more I'm cooking food from rawer and rawer ingredients. I made ice-cream the other day (without an ice-cream maker) and it was pretty good. Good enough to try it on vistors I reckon.

Cooking for yourself is not only satisfying, it's cost effective as well. £4.50 of that £4.99 will be eaten up by packaging, preparation, distribution and other overheads but mostly it's good, juicy, shareholder-pleasing profit (not much left there for the actual ingredients). In the case of the slightly more democratic Waitrose who operate on a different financial basis to most other retailers it's a little different, but they are still not averse to making a buck on the back of some pretentious advertising and overblown prose on the back of box about how special their food is.

Most of the time I can knock something up without recourse to a recipe. Stews, casseroles, stir-fries don't really need recipes anyway. All you need to know are the basic rules and you can tinker around with the ingredients. Roasts are a doddle. Try to learn how different cuts or joints of meat react to different cooking styles and use this knowledge. If you do need to follow a recipe, understand the rules and the terminology and you generally won't go far wrong. Recipes on packaging are usually pretty reliable as well. The manufacturers want you to see their product in the best possible circumstances so they're unlikley to give you a duff recipe on the packet.

In the last few years I've started bothering about puddings and other sweet things. I'd never really thought much about them. When out for a meal with friends I've always gone straight for the coffee when friends have been cooing over the dessert menu. Most restaurants seem to lose interest when it comes to dessert and resort to stuff like banoffee pie, sticky toffee pudding or death by chocolate or some other nutcase name to disguise some sickly concoction.

Round about this time of year, I start looking out for an interesting pudding for the family for Christmas. You've got to admit, Christmas pudding is pretty hopeless. Your poor mum willl buy, or prepare something the size of a football and most people will go through the motions of eating a tiny sliver, declaring it delicious and then avoiding it until they leave. My uncle Tam used to fry Christmas pudding and eat it for breakfast and I've got to say, that was about the tastiest way I've ever seen it presented.

So, the other day I saw this recipe for Cardamom Chocolate Truffles. Looks like an interesting treat to go with the after-dinner coffees I thought. It's a bit exotic but simple to prepare. I could go to Thorntons and buy their stuff but making your own would be much more satisfying and fun. I made a test batch this week. It took much longer than suggested and the results are disappointing. Three tablespoons of cardamom pods is way too much. Cream to chocolate proportions are wrong, and "thick and fluffy" is not a consistency I recognise. There should be 300ml of cream to 300g of chocolate. One tbsp. of cardamom pods is plenty. Have you ever bitten into a cardomom pod when somebody's left one in the rice? You can't taste anything else for the rest of the meal. In this case, you're only using them to infuse the cream but the taste from thre tablespoons is still overpowering.

I get pissed off with bad recipes. Especially when you spend nearly eight quid on ingredients. I had to buy extra cream to get the mix to a consistency that was beatable. The cardamom flavour is, as you might expect, overpowering, although it has done my sinuses no end of good. Still they look OK I suppose. What do you think?

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