Taste Test: Try Using a Teaspoon

Taste with a Teaspoon

The last time I followed a recipe was 3 years ago. My teaspoon is my recipe book. A reactive recipe book where ingredients and method vary greatly depending on how I feel. Depending on the day.

I might have a good idea as to what I want to achieve as I wok up my stir fry this evening, but I don’t want it to be limited to Nigel Slater’s Thai slant or Rick Stein’s Oriental perspective. Today it’s pork and noodles and I want it to meet the need of my taste buds. Today’s taste buds.

The meat is on the heat and I’m kicking it off with a little sesame oil. Once it’s sealed it’s time to add the first layer of flavour. Cumin, cinnamon, all spice and fresh ginger presiding over cayenne today. Like I said, I have today’s preferences in mind, and the order of the day is warmth and not heat.  One minute and the veg goes into the wok. I’m now thinking about sauce and the second layer of flavour: honey and light soy (that’s my stock). But I need to check that I’m following today’s ‘recipe’; I need my teaspoon. Stir and taste. I’m looking for sweetness, richness and the limited warmth of ginger and cinnamon (I don’t really need to taste the cumin, it’s serving a greater purpose, subservient to and supporting of the ginger).

I’ve only been adding a little at a time so I know that I’ll be in the right flavour ball park, but the balance isn’t there yet. The salt from the soy is permeating too strongly, more honey necessary. Stir and taste again. Good, better, it’s balancing out.

The noodles need to be added now, I’m conscious of time, the veg doesn’t need long. I haven’t added any more flavour since the last taste test but I’ve given it time to blend and develop so I’ll taste again.

Today is all about encouraging the warmth of ginger and it’s not coming through, so I’ll add a little more (I chopped it finely to give it a fighting chance of finding its way through the dish in a minute or two). Taste. That’s Layer Two complete.

Now a splash of rice wine vinegar, just a dash, enough to deglaze and add slight edge of sharpness (not too much or I’ll overpower the dish with acid). Taste. Dark soy for colour. Taste. Honey to re-balance. Taste. Perfect.

A stir fry like this will take around 7 minutes, typically I’d use my ‘recipe book’, around ten times. Probably around the same number of times a BBC Good Food website would be consulted and checked. Ok so my teaspoon is reactionary, experimental and maybe even a slightly risky approach to creating a dish but it was all the direction I needed and it’s given me the flavour of the moment.

I’m not advocating tearing up your “I’m Jamie Oliver and this is how I cook a three course meal in two minutes”. I’m not saying that the “Hairy Bikers’ guide to cooking in Geordie” can’t inspire. What I am saying is that the smallest of spoons can help generate the most exciting of dishes and create the fullest of flavours.

Next time you sizzle a stir fry, cook a casserole or prep a pasta sauce, try closing the recipe book and arm yourself with the humble teaspoon.

Brownies: the real result

Katherine posted a few days ago about an experiment she did in attempting to create a ‘healthy brownie’. I just felt that I wanted to give a little bit of real-person feedback on the results of this experiment.

Here are our friends Jo and Cliff, when asked to do a ‘thumbs-up/thumbs-down’ rating:

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I think their expressions say it all.

And here are our friends Mark and Maddy:

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So, as you can see, we weren’t that impressed. I do like healthy food, on the whole. But these weren’t pleasant, I’m afraid – nothing to do with the technique or the maker, but everything to do with the concept of trying to put a potato into a cake.

food.matsuya.co.uk – bringing you the truth, no matter how hard it is to stomach.

Fancy Food Friday: The Modern Pantry

Jo and I lead a fairly modest lifestyle, so it’s not all that often we go out for a meal – and even less frequently that we eat somewhere that is a little bit more fancy. I’m not sure if most people would describe The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell as Fancy, but at £40 for a bottle of wine which is (as I understand it) red wine with “a little bit of white” (but not rosé), there’s only one word that comes to mind: fancy. Read More

Luncheon problems, Part I

I need to admit something: I’m terrible at lunches. I really don’t know why, but I struggle to put something together myself that I find satisfying and tasty while being fairly healthy. And I’d far rather go and buy lunch each day than make it myself, although even buying stuff I get muddled with what I like.

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Brownies’ Honour

I am on a Quest. A Mission. A Journey of Great Importance. A Voyage of Discovery. Call it what you will, I am trying to find the best brownie recipe out there. The brownie recipe to end all brownie recipes. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

You are probably reading this and thinking ‘let me save you the hassle. I’ve got the best brownie recipe. I’ve been using it for years. It’s been passed down my family for generations. In fact, my family invented chocolate brownies.’ In which case, please send it my way. But the thing about brownie recipes is that almost everyone has one which they could (more or less) say that about. I think this is possibly more true for brownies than any other baked good. Many of my friends have their own special brownie recipe, and some of them will take it to the grave with them, convinced that theirs is The Ultimate In Brownie Recipes. And, I confess, I am one of those people. I’ve been using the same recipe for about 12 years. It’s my go to recipe for the classic Hen Weekend Recipe Book and many people have requested to have it, after tasting the brownies. (Thankfully I’m not one of those ‘take it to my grave’ people. The recipe wasn’t even mine in the first place).

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Take Comfort

“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey. To eat such a meal is to remember that, though the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for kindness. The angels, who know no hunger, have never been as satisfied.”
Eli Brown, Cinnamon and Gunpowder

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Sense-sational

Yesterday I was cooking with garlic (not unusual – I cook with garlic most days – I love garlic) and I was thinking how great garlic smells when it’s cooking. (It also tastes amazing, but that’s not so much what this is about.) It got me on to thinking about smell, and how powerful it can be. The smell of something can have a huge influence on how you feel about it, and is also one of the most powerful memory evokers. (As an aside – I often want to wear suncream as a perfume during the winter months, to remind me of happy sunny summer days.) And then I started thinking about all the senses, all involved in the culinary experience. Food is so much more than just taste. I decided to come up with a list of my favourite sights, sounds, smells and textures to do with food (and drink). This is definitely a work in progress, but here goes…

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Eating and drinking because It’s The Rules

Last week it was St George’s day. So as I usually do on St George’s day, I bought some English ale and had one. Not because I’m fanatically a proud Englishman, but because it’s a bit of fun. (I sometimes have a Guinness on St Patrick’s day.)

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That got me thinking about the fact that there are so many little excuses to eat or drink something for a certain day because “it’s tradition”. Off the top of my head:

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It’s not people, but is it palatable?

On social media I recently came across a product which seems to be so appealing on the one hand and yet so tragic on another. The product is Soylent, which claims to be a full replacement for all nutrients in a powder, which you mix with water to make a shake (the featured image is from the website). You drink the shake instead of eating your meals and you get everything you need, nutritionally, and apparently it might even taste okay. Read More