Fork In Review

Jan Hume

Cooking a la Coronavirus – Part 2

VegetablesWhen I go shopping I take a mental note of what is left in the fridge, and buy meat and/or veg which can match up with it, so that I don’t waste it. Then I can work out an idea or recipe. For example, if you already have some potatoes and carrots, you could buy some other vegetables, and bake them in the oven with some herbs, or spices. Zaatar is a very nice Middle Eastern spice mix. Don’t crowd the roasting dish because they won’t roast and go brown; they will merely steam. If there are leftovers, the next day you can have them as a salad with some rocket and your homemade French dressing.

Otherwise, you can search online where there are thousands of websites full of recipes using the items you have a lot of, for example, tinned tomatoes, and tomato pulp. You will find lots of recipes using tomatoes from various cuisines: Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Indian, Middle Eastern, and many more.

Similarly, there are lots of recipe ideas online for using: chick peas, beans, lentils. With these pulses it’s better to actually start from the dry product. You just soak them over night refrigerated in a lidded container. Then drain and simmer them in clean water until they are soft enough to be included in the dish you’re planning to make. If there is too much, just freeze them in a lidded tub.

Also, there are loads of recipes using:  pasta, rice, haloumi, vegetables.

As the body needs protein, it’s a good idea to use: eggs, mince and other cuts of meat, and fish. But don’t forget soy beans, which incidentally have lots of protein, and you can do anything with them.

A good idea is to buy some ‘unloved’ fish. The Australian Marine Conservation Society has a Good Fish Project which has enlisted leading Australian chefs who have given up on unsustainable seafood.

You must read the recipe before you start cooking. If there is a term you don’t understand search for it online. Follow the recipe exactly, and you’re less likely to end up in a shambles. Be careful with seasoning eg. when you add chilli, start with a smaller amount than the recipe says, mix it in then taste it, as it might be just enough. Remember, you can put it in, but you can’t take it out J

Once you’ve cooked the dish several times and you’re feeling confident, then you can try different herbs, spices and flavourings.

Cake cooking is a different matter; you must always stick to the recipe because the ratio of ingredients is extremely important. Otherwise it won’t work.

One-pot meals are relatively easy, and especially good in winter. Luckily, there is no shortage of online recipes for: stews, braises, curries, and mince dishes such as spag bol.

With winter approaching, soups are easy and healthy. What I do with soups is simmer, for example, a few lambs’ shanks with barley, or a bacon hock with split peas. When cooked, shred the meat and put it back in the pot. Scoop into tubs and freeze. When you defrost it, dice and simmer a mixture of fresh vegetables, then add some of the soupy meat mixture and reheat. Season to taste.

One of the easiest meals you can cook is roast chicken with vegetables. Again, there are plenty of recipes online. Make sure the chicken is well cooked, because if it is underdone, it’s not good for your health. If there are leftovers, you can use them for salads and sandwiches. Throw the carcass into a pot and make some stock, which you can freeze, then use to make soups or to simmer some meat and vegetables.

Snacking is a very easy way to eat, but your body would like it better if they are healthy snacks. Just toast you favourite bread or some flatbread or roti. Spread on something delicious, such as: pâté, cheese, hummus, baba ghanoush, taramasalata etc. And on the side of the plate a pile of salad. Quick, delicious and healthy.

Just a tip: one of the most important things you do when cooking is to sharpen your knives fairly often. A blunt knife is more dangerous than a sharp one, because you apply more pressure when using a blunt knife. The test of a sharp knife is if it can cut a tomato without pressure.

Apart from the day to day necessity of cooking meals, your time in the kitchen could be used to explore new ideas, such as using indigenous foods:

Or you may like to consider other aspects of food and cooking.

Breadmaking is very satisfying. I know this because I used to work in a bakery. If you do it at home, it’s like therapy without the problem, and there are all sorts of different breads. Here are a couple of tasters:

While I’m cooking I usually have an interesting radio program going, or a podcast of a missed program.

Apart from the day to day physical acts of cooking, there is an opportunity to consider changes for a better food world:  I recently read an article about the Great Food Transformation set out by EAT-Lancet. This group want a global shift towards healthy dietary patterns, large reductions in food loss and waste, and major improvements in food production practices.

Linked with this, there has been a recent rush for vegetable seedlings at nurseries. A bit like the run on toilet paper, but a lot more rational. So if you are lucky enough to have a patch of dirt out the back, you could do a lot worse than planting something in it. If you need any how-to information, Gardening Australia website is the best source.

Apart from recipe books, there are loads of books about issues concerning food, and the production and consumption of it. Here are a few recommendations:

In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan

The Way We Eat Now – Bee Wilson

The Getting of Garlic – John Newton

Fair Food – Nick Rose

The Ten (Food) Commandments – Jay Rayner

These are a lot more interesting than Instagram J



Cooking à la Coronavirus – Part 1

foodiesfeed.com_healthy-green-beans-salad-with-egg-and-hemp-seedsWith the COVID-19 lock-down, if you have just lost your job, or have to work at home, you will have time to brush up on your culinary skills. Luckily, basic family cooking is not rocket science, unless of course you want to delve into the intricacies of pastry, confectionary and complicated desserts. Also, the cheapest food is that which you make at home.

In recent decades there has been a lot of cooking programs on TV which don’t always encourage people to get off the couch, go into the kitchen and actually do some real cooking. And that’s because often the recipes are too complicated, and take-away food is easy to get.

If you haven’t done much cooking before, I suggest keep your cooking basic, and don’t try to copy complicated recipes you see on the telly programs just because they look glamorous and trendy. Resist perfectionism and you won’t feel like a failure. You need a stove for cooking, not Instagram J

When employed, there is a lot of pressure to do a ‘second shift’ when you arrive home from work. So it’s understandable that doing a lot of cooking is an unattractive proposition. And therefore buying prepared foods or meal-kits is understandably a lot easier and convenient, even though more costly. However, convenience foods are a good start.

Planning before shopping is always useful: have a look in the fridge and cupboards to see what you already have, and need to use up.

If you have a fridge full of perishables, it’s best to use them up before you go shopping again. Try not to throw them out because that’s wasteful. You will know if they’re rotten: they can go yellow or slimy.

If the greens are limp, put them in a bowl of cold water which can help revive them a bit. Or, you can blanch them in a pot of boiling water (or microwave) for a few minutes, refresh them in a bowl of cold water, drain thoroughly, then freeze them.

Also, rotten meat and fish have an obviously nasty smell, so it will be obvious that they should be ditched. Use-by dates are really only a vague guide so that supermarkets can cover their backsides.

Keep your plastic take-away containers and lids because they are useful for batch cooking. If your batch of spag bol, soup or curry is getting a bit boring after a couple of days’ consumption, you can freeze the rest in portion-size boxes for future use.  Then you simply defrost one, and cook some pasta , noodles or rice, and maybe make a side salad to accompany the meal.

Bon appétit  J





Restaurant Reviewing and Social Media

Italian restaurantThe rise of social media and reviewing platforms has complicated the way restaurants are marketed and reviewed. If diners have had one too many drinks, they go home and might be feeling emboldened to start typing on one of the platforms such as Zomato, Yelp, Michelin or TripAdvisor. And the better the restaurant is rated the further up the ranking the restaurant goes.

Some customers just cannot be pleased no matter what, but their comments are still all part of the mix. Even though these platforms offer more democratic expression than one reviewer from a major daily newspaper, the potential diner looking for a decent feed gets the good with the bad.

It has been noted that receiving an accolade from a restaurant reviewing organisation that it does increase business.

So, to win an accolade, serving good food is not quite enough; location is also important. And when the accolade is won, the best advice to chefs is to stay true to their passion and don’t increase their prices.

Michelin began as a tyre company in 1889 in France. They started the guide to encourage people to motor around the country and go to good restaurants. And of course, buy more tyres.

It is said that the problem with restaurant awards is that they prefer fine dining rather than other styles, that the winning chefs are mostly men, mostly white, and sometimes lacking in cuisine diversity.

And these sites tend to favour established restaurants over new ones, traditional cuisines over anything too inventive, and Eurocentric over other cuisines. And strangely, an award-winning restaurant can rank very low in the ratings.

One restaurant reviewing organisation offered a definition of good food: it’s more than taste and technique; it should also be about the fishermen, the farmers, the soil, the water, the treatment of animals, the treatment of restaurant staff, and the budget allocations.  In other words, put the recognition back where it should be: with chefs and restaurants, not the whim of an editor, an awards committee, or algorithms. This kind of recognition helps chefs demonstrate that they care about these aspects, including the diner.

When I was a chef I remember someone saying “You’re cooking for the 5 per cent of diners who do know the difference, not the 95 percent who don’t”.

User-generated review sites are mostly used by international travellers, and will go to great lengths to capture eyeballs, and beat the game. These sites have booking facilities and reviewing facilities, and therefore can collect data. And restaurants can edge towards the top of the list of recommendations. In other words, average customers with average knowledge about food can demand excellence, but the chef has no real right of reply or influence over the reviewing site. Instead, it encourages the chef to engage in the rat race of climbing up the site’s ladder of recommendations.

If there are too many negative reviews, some waiters have been fired. Also, thousands of reviews have been analysed, and many fake reviews have been posted. These sites address all negative reviews, by contacting the diners and encouraging them back. Suspect reviews can come from the restaurant itself, or other restaurants.

Michelin has removed a star from the 3-star Auberge du Pont de Collonges, one of Chef Paul Bocuse’s restaurants, which it held since 1965. Also, Marc Veyrat’s restaurant, Manigod, lost a star for allegedly putting cheddar in a cheese soufflé. In support of Bocuse, described the demotion of  his restaurant as “pathetic”.

In the last few years, a few French chefs have relinquished their 3-star status due to the stress of constant judgement by restaurant reviewers. They just want to serve excellent food without the constant pressure and anxiety.

Despite the irritation of some restaurateurs, this year Michelin Guide introduced another category which is for sustainability.  According to Eater, it is for restaurants “who have taken responsibility by preserving resources and embracing biodiversity, reducing food waste and reducing the consumption of non-renewable energy.” But, as Michelin is a tyre company, it did not seem to discourage diners from driving around the countryside, increasing CO2 emissions.