It was while watching a popular cooking show recently – one whose name you’d never guess – that I was inspired to run with my next fun and frivolous retirement activity:
#39 Create Your Own Kitchen Rules
One of the contestants was – well there’s no other word for it – boasting that she would be making ricotta from scratch for her zucchini flower stuffing.
That’s the thing about these cooking shows. Apart from all the tinned, processed and packaged goods they’re allowed to buy at the major sponsor’s supermarket beforehand, the contestants are expected to make everything from scratch. And their competitors must then either slam them if they don’t, or state how impressive their culinary skills are if they do.
It was at this point I fell off the couch laughing. Have you ever made ricotta from scratch?
Honestly, it’s about as difficult as boiling an egg.
No, I’m exaggerating, as usual. You have to set a timer when you boil an egg, which isn’t necessary for ricotta making.
All you do is heat full-cream milk gently to just under boiling point, take it off the heat and season it, then slowly drizzle in lemon juice or vinegar:
The second that happens, you can watch the curds form before your eyes. Leave for 10 or 15 minutes – the time isn’t critical – scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and drain them in a colander or cheesecloth. Voila! Fresh, creamy ricotta.
This, of course, got me thinking. Might it mean that all the cooking techniques these chefs speak of are, in reality, reasonably simple to do? Might I have been scared off preparing something delicious because of the hubris that some aspiring chefs indulge in?
The answer is probably yes.
So here are a few more dishes that you may have been too intimidated to attempt, but which turn out to be within the capabilities of anyone who enjoys cooking.
Yes, that delicious-looking bright red sauce that all apprentice chefs seem to add to any dessert so they’ll be judged favourably: ‘…you’ve balanced the flavours well with the tartness of the raspberry coulis cutting through the cloying sweetness of the mango.’
So I had a go at making this magical sauce that balances flavours so well. It entails pulverising a punnet’s worth of raspberries in a food processor then pushing the resulting mess through a sieve and discarding the seeds. Yes, that easy.
And my conclusion? Well… Just between you and me, I found it spoiled the mango somewhat. A bit tart, really…
Labneh has become the go-to yoghurt cheese that’s a creamy yet piquant addition to any food served on a wooden platter at trendy restaurants – or your own kitchen – right next to the pile of smashed avocado.
So how difficult is Labneh to make?
Would you believe it if I said it’s easier than ricotta, because no heating is required and no lemon juice or vinegar has to be drizzled in?
Just take a cup of thick, Greek Style yoghurt. Season if desired. Spoon onto cheesecloth, tie the top corners together and suspend over a bowl in the fridge for 2 or 3 days. There’s your labneh.
If you need to store it, you can roll the compacted yoghurt (the whey has dripped out) into small balls, coat with chopped parsley or your preferred herb and store covered in sunflower oil in a jar in the refrigerator. (I choose sunflower rather than olive oil as it doesn’t solidify when cold). It’s yum.
Now ricotta, coulis and labneh have been mastered with nary a sweat raised, maybe it’s time to move onto something more challenging.
Oh yes. Every budding chef peppers their conversation with the word ganache. It’s drizzled on their cakes, or piped into their biscuits or used as a base for their home made truffles. This is sounding a bit more difficult.
Except ganache isn’t difficult at all!
I hope chefs are starting to feel embarrassed.
Ganache involves nothing more than heating thick cream and pouring it over well chopped chocolate. That’s it. Allow it to sit for a minute or two then blend for a smooth, rich, luscious tasting treat that screams Eat Me!
The only secret to the perfect ganache is knowing the proportion of cream to chocolate and that depends on what you plan to use it for. One part cream to one part chocolate for a pouring consistency and one part cream to two or three parts chocolate for piping between biscuits or rolling into truffles.
…so deserving of the Royal Albert plate
Right. Now that creating ganache has been licked (pardon the pun, but wait till you make some and have to clean the bowl…) it’s time to move on to that pinnacle of (alleged) difficulty:
This little morsel has been the death of many a budding cook on TV shows, but if you follow the recipe to the letter it’s not at all impossible.
There’s fear about your piped macarons ending up irregularly shaped or mismatched, but that’s easily overcome by using a pre-drawn paper template under the baking paper while piping, then removing the template before cooking. The template can be reused as often as needed:
Then there’s the fear of getting air bubbles in the mixture that you’ve piped, but that’s overcome by carefully banging the tray flat on the bench before cooking.
The fear of ending up without the all important ‘feet’
…complete with ‘feet’
is a matter of carefully folding your ingredients after reading the amazingly helpful ‘How To Cook That’ page on Google which will cover every question you ever had about making macarons.
And having previously mastered Ganache, filling the perfect cases you’ve just made is, ahem, a piece of cake.
…not as perfect as a french pâtissier might make, but tolerable
It struck me that most of these dishes have an exotic sounding name, which may be what’s given them their reputation.
I can only hope that there’s a parallel cooking show somewhere in a non-English speaking part of the world where the competitors are in awe when a contestant plates up soft boiled eggs with toasted soldiers spread with – wait for it – an exotic thick, black, salty spread that they’ve never seen before and that tastes simply delicious.