- Life & Style
- Books & TV
With a few kitchen skills in your pocket you can tackle any recipe with confidence. Here are a few tips and techniques to get you started.
Beginning with fresh seasonal produce is one of the simplest ways to make good food. If you build your meals around what's freshest at the farmers' market or in your own garden you will not only save yourself money, but also forge a connection with nature's cycles. But in a world where we are offered flawless supermarket tomatoes all year around, it's easy to lose track of what's truly in season at any time of the year.
For seasonal harvesting charts that show when different fruits and vegetables are at their peak throughout the year, see my blog. To download the seasonal vegetable chart in pdf form (XXXXMB) click here. To download the seasonal fruit chart in pdf form (XXXXMB) click here.
Top 10 tips for cake baking
My cake is dry
The top has cracked
It has peaked in the centre
It has sunk in the middle
It sticks to the inside of the tin
Here's how to cook the perfect medium-rare beef, lamb or venison steaks:
I'll show you how...
Here's how to roast tender, juicy beef, lamb or venison:
I'll show you how...
Tenderloin is also known as eye fillet. Here's how to cook it perfectly:
I'll show you how...
Carving beef, lamb or venison in thin slices across the grain creates short fibres and a more tender result.
I'll show you how...
Judging whether a piece of meat is rare, medium rare or overcooked can be unnerving, especially if you are cooking a large piece of meat and have a bunch of people expecting a delicious dinner. Here is a good trick to allow you to easily gauge the degree to which meat is cooked. It is especially useful for big cuts. Use the fleshy area at the base of your thumb as your guide.
Raw With your hand completely relaxed, press the fleshy area at the base of your thumb – the ‘X spot’. This texture is what raw meat feels like.
Rare Now touch your thumb to your first finger and with your other hand press the X spot - you will feel just a little resistance. This is what rare meat feels like. On a meat thermometer it would be 45-50°C.
Medium rare Touch your thumb to your middle finger and with your other hand press the X spot. This is what medium rare meat feels like. On a meat thermometer this would be 55-60°C.
Medium Touch your thumb to your ring finger and with your other hand press the X spot. This is what medium cooked meat feels like.
Well done Touch your thumb to your pinky finger and with your other hand press the X spot. This is what well done meat feels like.
If you do find you have erroneously overcooked an expensive cut of meat, like a rack of lamb, the best thing you can do is to place it immediately into a sealed bag and submerge in a bowl of iced water. This will cool it down as quickly as possible and prevent the further cooking that occurs during resting.
If you start carving a piece of meat as soon as it comes out of the oven all the juices will erupt out, the colour will not be even, the meat will still be cooking and so it will be a little tough (as the molecules are still vibrating really fast). Resting large cuts of meat prior to carving is crucial, as the juices disperse evenly through the meat, the colour evens out and the meat becomes noticeably more tender as the cooking process comes to an end.
I generally cover a cooked roast with a piece of tinfoil then lay clean towels on top and leave it for 15-20 minutes. While it rests, any accompanying gravy or sauce can be made and any green vegetables cooked. The difference in texture, evenness and moisture after resting is like chalk and cheese, and makes this perhaps the single-most important aspect of meat cookery.
The process of ageing meat relaxes the muscle groups and makes them more tender. A good butcher will have done this already and you can be sure you will enjoy more tender meat if it has been looked after by a professional butcher in his chiller before it hits the meat cabinet. Once you get your meat home, remove any plastic wrapping (unless it is in a Cryovac pack, in which case it can keep in this for a week or more). Store meat on a plate covered with waxed paper.
Honey can be substituted for sugar in many recipes. The flower variety that was in bloom prior to its harvest will have a significant impact on its flavour, so experiment with different types of honey in your cooking.
Tips for cooking with honey
In recipes calling for white sugar try substituting light honey. In recipes using golden syrup or treacle, use dark honey.
When substituting honey for sugar, start by adding half as much honey (by volume) as there is sugar specified. Taste and add a little more if necessary.
Reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup for each cup of honey used.
Add honey to the butter or oil in a fine stream, beating constantly to gain volume and a lighter texture.
To neutralise the honey’s acidity, add about ½ tsp baking soda for each cup of honey used.
Honey caramelises at a lower temperature than sugar, so reduce the oven temperature by 10-15°C to prevent overbrowning.
Creamed honey can be gently melted a microwave for easy use.
To keep whipped cream firm, add 1 tsp of mild-flavoured honey during beating.
Spray your measuring spoon with cooking oil to help the honey slide off.
Fresh picked salad greens will keep for up to 12 days in the fridge, provided they are carefully handled. The trick is to ensure the greens are completely dry and kept in a sealed container in the fridge to retain their crispness. If the leaves are wet they will go black and soggy. Some leaves are more sturdy than others. The likes of spinach leaves, mesclun mixes, cos and rocket stand up well to washing and spinning dry in a salad spinner. More delicate leaves like buttercrunch lettuce are best gently patted dry.
Yeast is a living organism which is destroyed by heat, but needs a little warmth to start dividing and growing. This is why you always use lukewarm, rather than hot liquids, when making yeast doughs, and rise them in a warm place. Be sure to check the ‘use by’ date on the packet of dried yeast as yeast which has expired won't work and you will end up with a flat unrisen loaf. Yeast does survive freezing, which is why you can make up doughs and freeze them very successfully.
Using a bread maker
I often use a bread maker or the dough hook on my electric mixer to make yeast-based doughs, especially when I am looking for a wet mix (which can be hard to handle by hand). As a loose rule of thumb, a wet dough produces a lighter, less dense structure in your cooked loaves.
Once the dough is made you can tip it out and form into whatever shapes you like. Prepared dough improves by being kept overnight in the fridge - in this slow rise it develops more flavour and the finished loaf has better keeping qualities. If you want to keep the dough for more than 48 hours, it is best frozen. Thaw at room temperature.
You need to keep potatoes out of the light or their skins will turn green. This green skin contains a moderately poisonous alkaloid called solanin, but this can be peeled away and the remaining potato is fine to eat. Potatoes should not be stored in the fridge as cold temperatures convert starches to sugar, which gives them an odd flavour and can turn the flesh brown. If potatoes start to sprout, they can still be eaten as long as they are firm.
Eggs keep best in the fridge, and provided they are fresh when purchased should keep for at least four weeks. When eggs are very fresh the clear albumen holds tightly round the yolk and gives the eggs a neat appearance when they are cracked into a pan for poaching or frying. As eggs age this egg white starts to break down, so the egg spreads out a lot when it is cracked. Eggs absorb increasing amounts of air as they age, and it is this air which causes them to deteriorate and eventually go rotten. A simple way to determine the freshness of eggs is to place them in a bowl of cold water. Very fresh eggs will lay flat in the water. After a couple of weeks they start to tilt upright in the water. By the time they can float they are rotten.
It is such a fun thing to head out and gather wild mushrooms. However, you do need to be very careful about what you pick, and be certain that you have properly identified any that you plan to eat, as some varieties can be very toxic. In Wanaka I gather great autumn field mushrooms, giant horse mushrooms as well as delicious Birch Boletus. A type of cep, this has a spongy base rather than gills and so is easily identifiable. The cep family all have this distinctive spongy underside of the cap. Bar one species in the family, which has a red cap (red equals danger for all mushrooms) all other types of cep are safe to eat, although some, like the slippery jack, don’t taste very good. Wild mushrooms don’t tend to keep well as they are prone to a small white worm. However, they can be cooked up and frozen, or dried and ground into a tasty mushroom powder.
Air is the greatest enemy of cheese, as it dries it out very quickly. Ensure all cut surfaces of cheese are covered well before refrigerating. This is one of the few times when I will use a clingfilm wrap. To store large blocks of cheese, cover any cut surfaces, then wrap the whole piece in tin foil and store in a sealed container in the fridge, replacing the cover on the cut surface each time you cut it.
Be sure to bring specialty cheeses out of the fridge a couple of hours before you plan to serve them. This allows the flavours and textures to develop. Leftover bits of cheese can be grated and stored in the fridge as toppings for pies and tarts or to add into savoury baked items.
Clean and gut fish as soon as you catch it and chill right away, as every hour at room temperature equates to a day’s shelf life. Properly handled, fish will keep (like milk) for up to 12 days in the fridge, but it always tastes best when it is really fresh.
If you are buying fish, look for glistening flesh that smells of the sea, nothing fishy or dull looking. Don’t let your choice of seafood be dictated by a recipe, rather always shop with your eyes and nose for freshness. Fish can be frozen as long as it goes into the freezer really fresh. Use within 6-8 weeks or it gets dry and loses flavour.
Chicken is prone to carrying bacteria and so always needs to be thoroughly cooked through. It should never be pink and the juices should always run clear. Again, like meat, a whole roast of chicken should be rested before carving.
When preserving, you need to ensure jars are sterilised to ensure there are no bacteria or moulds present that can make the food you are storing go off.
Wash jars thoroughly and rinse well. Place inside the oven on racks and turn the temperature to 100°C. Leave for 15-20 minutes. Take care when removing jars from the oven that you do not place them on a cold surface or fill with cold food while hot, as they may crack.
You can also do a quick sterilise of single jars by placing a wet jar in a microwave and cooking on high power for 1 minute.
Generic content for all other countries not on the list.
Get VIP offers and great foodie inspiration!