My Inherited Kitchen

Cooking for people who can't cook but now have to

Category: Everyday

How do I cook a lamb shank in a bag?

I’ve just spent the weekend with my cousins in Bournemouth soaking up the sun and walking Gill’s Mongolian Bargate. After a couple of great days Florence, our co-host, decided to give me a leaving present. It was a cooked Lamb Shank in a vacum sealed bag.  Of course no instructions on how to cook a Lamb Shank were provided and I’ve never cooked anything in a sealed bag before.

Do NOT try to open the bag

At home on Monday I decided to cook it. Needless to say my first thought was to see how to open the bag. Somehow I resisted the temptation and thought that I’d better check how to open it. I didn’t have to open it.  A large pan of boiling water was the only thing needed. Just put the bag in the boiling water for 30 minutes (45 minutes if frozen) then take it out and let it stand for two minutes before opening the bag. Done. Thanks Florence it was great.

The easy way to cook a lamb shank

I’m now sold on cooking meat in a bag and will try it with other pre packed meats. The only downside is the time it takes to boil a large pan of water. Use a kettle to the boil the water before putting it into the large pan definitely speeds things up.

I will resist the temptation to buy my own vacuum sealing machine which start at about £70 and upwards.

 

 

Pasta with cheese

How to choose a new recipe

More recipes are now available in more places than ever. While potentially a good thing it does make it even more difficult for members of the My Inherited Kitchen community to know which new recipe to select. A bit like choosing which tea to buy in a supermarket – the curse of too much choice.

Based on my somewhat variable experiences here are the My Inherited Kitchen step by step guidelines to help you quickly say yes or no to a new recipe.

  1. Does it have a picture?    If not don’t even try it.  You need something to compare your finished dish to and give you a few hints while you are making it.
  2. Do you like the picture?  If no it may be an automatic reject but you may wish to take into account that not everyone can take good pictures of food.  Needless to say some of my recipe pictures fall into this category.
  3. How long is the list of ingredients?  If it’s more than 20 it is an automatic no. It’s a good indicator of a complex dish for chefs not My Inherited Kitchen fans. As a guide the average My Inherited Kitchen list of ingredients is 8 and the maximum that will fit on my recipe sheet is 14.
  4. Are there more than four ingredients that you have never heard of? If you don’t want to spend your time trying to find out what they are and where you could buy them it’s a definite no.
  5. Is there an ingredient that you don’t like? Why punish yourself?
  6. Do you have the kitchen gadgets needed to make it? It would have to score well on other counts to convince me. Unless of course I was looking for an excuse to buy that kitchen tool anyway. (Warning: It’s very easy to fall into the buy more gadgets trap – as I’ve just demonstrated).
  7. Are they using cooking terms that you don’t understand?  Of course you have to learn about new things but if there is too much cooking code and shorthand – pass. Why make things hard when there are other options.
  8. How many people is the recipe for? This can be the killer question. There are very few recipes for 1 compared to 2, 4 or 6 people. Calculating one sixth of an ingredient is fraught with problems. You have to be good a maths and splitting an egg can be really tricky. The more people that the recipe is created for the greater the likelihood that it just won’t for work one. (This is why every My Inherited Kitchen recipe is just for one person).

Please let me know if you have other suggestions to add to the list for selecting a new recipe.  It would also be good to hear about any sources of good recipes for one in addition to My Inherited Kitchen. Particularly if you had tried it and really like it.

Potato head

How long does it take to make mash potatoes?

For most people mash takes well over 30 minutes by the time they boil the water and simmer the potatoes for 20-25 minutes. That’s a long time for something which is hardly the highlight of the meal. Fortunately I’ve been reading instructions leaflets again. This time it was worth it. I discovered that you can cook potatoes in just 10 minutes. The secret is to use the microwave rice steamer that features in my list of top 20 things that you need in a kitchen.

How?

Simply peel the potatoes and cut them into small 1-2cm chunks, place them in the bottom of the steamer and add water until they are just covered. Put the lids on and cook in the microwave for 10 minutes. When you hear the bleep drain the water out, add butter and mash as usual.  Just make sure that you do not use a metal masher because it will damage the steamer.

Magnificent mash

When I discovered this quick way of creating mash I decided to see if I could use it to find some ways to make mash a bit more – well, exciting.  A tall order perhaps so I invented the Yuk or Oh method. The idea is to make twice as much mash as I needed and split it into two separate piles before serving. I then added a teaspoonful (5ml) of a herb to one pile, mixed it in  and then tasted it. If it was “yuk” I could then eat the unadulterated version. If it was oh (in good way) I’d then try a different herb on the other portion because I know that I’d like at least one of them.

Some of these Yuk or Oh tests helped create the herbs matched to food guide. If you have discovered some ways to make mash more exciting please let me know.

What to have for dinner after you’ve had a big lunch

You are too full for a big meal but you do need something. In the My Inherited Kitchen world the solution is summed up in one word – dessert.

If you just want something light get a fresh fruit tub from a supermarket and do not feel guilty adding some ice cream. The next step up is what some of my friends call my school dinners obsession. In M&S you can get individual pudding for: Syrup sponge, bread and butter pudding, raspberry jam sponge and of course my favourite sticky ginger sponge pudding. They last for a month in a cupboard and take 40 seconds to cook in the microwave.  Of course to make it a real school dinners favourite a dessert needs custard. The contents of a tin of custard in the microwave for two minutes is all it takes. The total cost will be less than two pounds.

If you have a bit more time

My school certainly did not serve apple strudel for dessert so I’m making up for it now. This is one of the few times I recommend that you buy something that according to the box serves 6. Frozen strudel in apple and other varieties come in 350mm boxes and are available in Waitrose, Tesco and M&S as well as some others.

The first thing to do when you get it home, before you put it into the freezer, is to cut it into portions. The box says 6 portions but I think that it’s only 4. Anyway, you decide. Use a bread knife to slice the portions and then put them back in box so that you still have the cooking instructions.

They take around 35 minutes to cook but are my favourite dessert dish for dinner after a big lunch. Sometimes I can even resist the temptation to add ice cream or custard. Sometimes.

Are scratch kits like “The Spice Tailor” any good?

What are scratch kits?

The best way to describe scratch kits is that they bridge the gap between jars of cooking sauce and buying everything separately.  Basically they make it easier to create better meals – something we all want. On the supermarket shelves they often look like cardboard sleeves about 20cm high and 8cm wide.  At the top is a rivet that holds typically three plastic pouches which usually contain exactly the right amount herbs and spices, a base sauce and a main sauce. All you usually need to add is meat or chicken.

Why are they good?

The main reason is that they have exactly the right amount and mix of herbs and spices for the dish. Typically about 3-6 types. I rarely have more than one of them in my spice cupboard and that’s usually pepper corns. The instructions say what the spices are and what they do. (Why don’t they put this on spice jars?).  An illustration also makes it easy to identify which is which. You can then take out anything that you don’t like or are allergic to. Definitely a clever idea. Even better when the kits typically cost about the same as two jars of spices that you will most probably never use again. Most importantly of all – they taste consistently great.

Are there brands other than Spice Tailor?

I discovered Spice Tailor first but several supermarkets have now started their own brand as have some other sauce companies. Everything that I’ve tried so far has been great and far better than I could ever make. Kit cooking could be the best way to escape from bland ready meals.  Try one and see what you think.

 

 

Mince

How and why do I “brown” meat?

Quite a few recipes ask you to “brown” the meat but they often don’t say how. Even less explain why. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far.

Why “brown” meat?

If you are browning meat you are part cooking it.  The main reason for doing this is to improve the colour, flavour and texture that can’t be achieved by the next step in the recipe. A good example is a casserole or curry that’s cooked slowly in a pot on a low heat. Meat will not go brown in the pot because the overall temperate while hot enough to cook is not hot enough to brown the meat. The direct temperature typically needs to be over 150c to brown meat.

What happens if I don’t brown the meat?

If you are doing a slow cooked dish the meat will still cook but it will look lighter, more like the colour of a muddy puddle. It may be silkier to look at and eat but could be more fatty.  Some say that it may not taste as nice either but like many things in cooking land – it depends.  A couple of my friends claim to never brown meat but I’ve never eaten at their house.

Here is a big however…

Some recipes say brown the meat but they really mean fully cook it. If you see ready made sauces for mince based dishes such as Spaghetti Bolognese where the instructions say “brown until the juices run clear” that really means you must cook it before adding the sauce.

What types of meat are browned in recipes?

It can be almost any type of meat or chicken but mostly it’s where the meat is minced, diced or cut into chunks.  It’s often where the next step in the cooking process is at a low heat or done very quickly like stir fry.

How do I brown meat and what does it look like?

You can use a wok, saucepan or frying pan to brown meat but there must be enough room for all of the pieces of meat to be direct contact with the bottom of the pan without touching one another.  You need to put a tablespoonful of olive oil in the pan and use heat 6 which translates into medium/high. Leave the pan for up to 5 minutes to get really hot.

While you are waiting for the pan to heat up put the meat onto some kitchen paper to soak up any water or other liquid. If you don’t do this it will slow the cooking/browning process and you might get a lot more oil splashes.

Gently put the meat into the frying pan or it will give your hob and possibly you a splatter of hot oil. Stir the meat to get it covered in oil then spread it evenly over the base of the pan and leave for about three minutes.  Keep stirring every two to three minutes to ensure that all sides of the meat are no longer red and the meat looks brown.  The aim is get the surface of the meat to look a bit like a steak cooked nicely on a barbecue. Not well done. The whole process will most probably take less than 10 minutes. If it doesn’t you either have the heat too low or you risk over cooking it. Either way I might not be too keen to accept an invitation for dinner at your house.

 

 

The daily grind

The average kitchen has over 100 tools of various types so you will definitely get more tools than the minimum 20 recommended by My Inherited Kitchen. Here’s something that I’ve found very helpful for the daily grind.

Electric Salt & pepper mills

I must admit that I could never see the value of electric salt and pepper millpepper grinders when I was just an “eater”. Now in the world of My Inherited Kitchen I’ve discovered their big advantage. You only need one hand to operate it while the other hand could be doing something helpful or simply keeping out of the way because it’s sticky and yucky.

I’ve also discovered that most dishes need some type of seasoning which mainly means salt and pepper so they are used in the kitchen every day.

Some people ( Stian was first) have asked why many recipes say “season to taste” when what they really mean is add salt and pepper to taste.  When recipes are not specific us novice cooks could think that other types of seasoning might need be added too.  Potentially confusing. Needless to say none of my recipes use term “season to taste”.

How you can help someone who can’t cook – Gordon’s story

I was sitting on my own in the M4 Services drinking a coffee when an older gentleman, who I later found out was called Gordon,  asked if he could join me. I just said “of course you can”.  His friend had gone off to get their drinks. Almost immediately Gordon started to talk about how great microwaves were and how dependent he was on ready meals. I resisted the temptation to say anything. He went on to say that he missed many of the things that his wife had cooked but with a sad face admitted that he didn’t know how to cook.

By this stage I couldn’t contain myself any longer. Here was the type of person who could really benefit from the MyInheritedKitchen website, in fact it was designed for people like him. I talked to Gordon about the simple timed recipes, the how much guides and lots of other features of the not for profit site.  Gordon liked what he heard and smiled. Then his face changed to a more serious look and he said “is this in a book or in one of those website things?  – I don’t understand websites.” Well he was in his early 80’s so perhaps that’s not too surprising.

Gordon’s friend then returned with their drinks and sat down. We told him about the website too. Then Gordon asked the key question. “Can you just print something from the website?” “Of course you can” I said. Between the three of us we worked out that all Gordon needed to do was to give my card with the website address on to a friend or relative who understood how to use a computer and they could print off any pages that Gordon might find helpful.

As I left Gordon and his friend to enjoy their coffees they were smiling and talking about how they could get their grandchildren to show them things on www.myinheritedkitchen.co.uk and print off interesting pages for them. What a great way to link young and old.

Do you know anyone like Gordon who you, or your children, could help in a similar way?

How do you clean an induction hob?

When I inherited my kitchen I was so pleased to see an induction hob. A nice smooth glass surface with no fiddly bits to take out or clean. My first attempts at cooking meant that it got very dirty very quickly and very often.  The big question was – how to clean an induction hob. With a cupboard full of various cleaners it should have been easy but none of the products actually said “for induction hobs”.

How to get rid of smears on the induction hob

Over the following weeks I tried glass cleaners, kitchen wipes, general purpose cleaners and almost anything else that was in the cupboard except the brillo pads – although it was tempting. They all managed to get the grease and food marks off but all of them left smears on the glass. Needless to say I suddenly became a very hob proud person and started to looking for the best but also simplest solution.

The solution to clean an induction hob

First wait until the hob is cold then apply just three drops of washing up liquid. Don’t use any more than three drops or it will smear and you will loose faith in my “extensive research”. Now get one sheet of kitchen towel and wet it with warm/hot water. Rub the hob and it will go soapy and get all of the marks off.

Now get another piece of kitchen towel but this time wet it with cold water and rub over the hob to remove all the soapy bits. Finally get a dry sheet of kitchen paper to mop up the remaining water and produce a wonderful smear free finish.  It actually takes less time than it took me to write this paragraph and works most of the time.

Of course if you know a better way please let me know.

Rustic kitchen table

What are you having for dinner tonight? Is it the same as other people?

Just click on the button that looks most like your dinner tonight and see what other people are having. Please share with your friends.

What are you having for dinner tonight?

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Lemon

How to zest a lemon and why bother?

I always thought that the best part of fruit was on the inside and that other than for marmalade the skin was just thrown away.  So, whenever I saw a recipe that included “the zest of a lemon” I imagined that it was either for presentation or just lemon juice.

Recently a recipe that featured the “zest of a lemon” was recommended to me, so for the My Inherited Kitchen community I decided to see if I was right.  As in so many of my preconceptions about cooking I was wrong.  It made a big difference. Try it yourself with our Leek and Bacon Risotto recipe.

How do you zest a lemon?

The zest is the thin layer of yellow around a lemon. It is not the white bit underneath which tastes bitter. Therefore you have to find a way of just shaving off the bits that do taste good. You can either use a citrus zester or a microplane.

citrus zester microplane zesterWith both devices just rub them across the lemon and collect the slivers of lemon on a plate. Typically you will need about a teaspoonful in most recipes although they rarely state how much.

The most important thing to do before zesting a lemon is to make sure that it is throughly washed. You should also avoid buying lemons that are waxed to keep them looking good. Wax does not taste nice.

 

Potato head

How to boil potatoes without burning your fingers

Anyone can boil potatoes. All you do is boil some water in a pan and put the peeled and cut potatoes into the hot water. The potatoes then splash into the water burning your fingers and making the hob messy. No wonder some people who treasure their fingers avoid boiling potatoes.

Is there a better way?

The recipes I’d read just said put the potatoes into boiling water. So I just followed instructions. Now I’ve discovered what other cooks do to avoid burning their fingers and making a mess of the the hob. They put the potatoes into the water before boiling the water. No more burned fingers and only using the right amount of water needed to cover the potatoes means less splashing while cooking.  Once the water is boiling just turn it down to simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes start to soften.

Does this work for pasta?

No. Nice idea though. One alternative to reducing the risk of splashing boiling water is to only use the amount of water specified in the My Inherited Kitchen recipes. The other way is to put the pasta into a measuring jug and pour it into the water just a centimetre or two above the boiling water.

If you know of any other less finger burning methods please let me know.

 

 

 

Real pies from the Manze pie shop with green liquor – the verdict

Pie, green liquor and mash from Manze. The food treat of my London childhood. So what was it like after all those years? The pies and green liquor were delivered in an ice box and all I had to do was make some mash potatoes. This gave me long enough to reminisce – if it’s possible to do that with pies.

The pies were smaller than I remember but of course so was I. The green liquor was full of parsley and looked the same. So what about the taste? To me everything needed more seasoning and stronger flavours. Most probably the pies are the same but my taste has changed so it seemed a bit bland. I enjoyed the memories it brought back more than the meal but those memories were the most important bit. Then I found out how that I’d got a couple of things wrong.

Christine told me what I was doing wrong

First you must have two pies. My school boy error – no wonder I thought they were small.  You have to turn the pies upside down, cut them open and then put lots of vinegar and pepper on them. Christine accurately describes the result as Yummy.

How to sharpen a kitchen knife

Some readers of my last post about how to tell if a knife is sharp now need to know how to sharpen a kitchen knife.

In my inherited kitchen there were lots of knives of all shapes and sizes and I soon discovered that none of them felt particularly sharp and the light test proved it. While I had seen TV chefs and Tim nonchalantly rubbing a knife against a sharpening steel while talking I just knew that they had spent years practicing and I had to find an easier way.

Tools that didn’t work

I tried a couple of devices that claimed you just need do pull the knife through a groove a couple of times and it becomes sharp like magic. Sounded good to me. The problem is that they either didn’t work and/or they took off pieces of metal which didn’t seem right.  So I did what anyone else would do.  I threw away all of the old knives and bought a new set of knives and a sharpening steel. The new knives gave me a benchmark of what a sharp knife is really like and the difference that it made. The challenge was then keeping them sharp.

How to use a steel to sharpen a kitchen knife

After a bit of research and testing I found the easy way for us newbie knife sharpeners. It involves keeping the steel still and only moving the knife. The first step is it get an old tea towel, fold it over a couple of times and put it on the work top. This will stop the steel from moving or damaging the worktop and also collect anything rubbed off the knife.

Now put the base of the steel in the centre of the tea towel and hold it vertical without moving.  With your other hand pick up an old knife (while you are learning) and try to work out what a 22.5 degrees angle looks like. The easy way is to estimate a 45 degree angle then half it, near enough will do.  Now hold the knife against the steel with the end nearest the handle at the very top. Try to maintain that 22.5 degree angle and pull the knife down and along the steel to the very tip of the knife.  Don’t pull the knife back up the steel or you risk damaging the edge. Once you have got the hang of it try doing it three times on each side of the sharp edge of the knife.  (You might find it easier to change the hand holding the steel when doing the other edge of the knife). Then do the bright light test to spot any burrs or imperfections.  If you can see anything bad just repeat the process.

Success is when your knives feel as sharp as when they were new.

 

 

How to tell if a knife is sharp without cutting your fingers

Ok, hands up who has not accidentally cut their finger with a knife in the kitchen. Other than the few smug faces I’m sure that most of us remember the painful and often messy experience quite well.

The two main causes (at least in my case) is lack of knife skills and/or knifes that are not sharp enough.  There is a third cause which is running your finger down the edge of a knife to see if it is sharp.  Definitely not to be recommended.

How to tell if a knife is sharp

You could try slicing a tomato as I suggest on the website but I have now found a better way. First find a bright light source like the sun or a torch. Hold the handle of the knife and tilt the edge of the blade backwards and forwards under the light with a dark background behind the knife. You will quickly see any blunted or burred areas. If you can’t you either have sharp knifes or you need find a magnifying glass and try again.

I’ll cover how to sharpen knives in my next post.

Red Thai curry chicken

How do you know when the meat is cooked?

Have you ever read a recipe that said “when the meat is cooked” and wondered how on earth you know that?  Even Loyd Grossman says it on the side of his jars.

Help is at hand with a meat thermometer which is one of the top 20 tools that I recommend for every kitchen. Just stick the prob into the meat when you put it in the oven. Watch the temperature rise on the large circular dial as the meat cooks and take the meat out when it reaches the right temperature.

However – there are some limitations

What if you can’t see through the window, insert the prob properly or the piece of meat is too small? Having experienced all these things and the thermometer just falling Digital meat thermometerout there had to be a better way.

To find out I spent about £15 and bought an electronic meat thermometer. This works differently. You do not leave the thermometer in the meat. You just insert it when you need to check the meat’s temperature. It gives you the exact answer on a digital screen. It’s much easier, more accurate and you can check different areas of a large piece of meat. The only downside is that you will need to open the oven door to check the temperature.

How do you know when the meat is cooked in a pan on the hob?

The meat thermometer with an analogue dial is useless but the digital readout is perfect. Just insert the prob into almost any size of meat as often as you need.

The big benefit for me is that I’ve stopped overcooking pieces of chicken and beef because I didn’t know what I was doing. Now when Mr Grossman says “when the meat is cooked” I can actually tell when that is. I’m sure that Emma will be pleased to hear that it also works on my steaks.

 

 

 

What are my favourite pasta sauces?

Ok, I’ve now learnt that not everyone likes hot curry – so, what are my favourite pasta sauces?

In my last post I compared Madras curry sauce from M&S with the Loyd Grossman Madras. This time I’ve chosen very different favourite pasta sauces from M&S, LG and another company for you to try. (Yes I do like pasta a lot).  As you’ll see a key difference is the percentages of tomatoes in each product.

M&S Arrabbiata pasta sauce

This was one of the first M&S pasta sauces that I tried and it’s still one of my favourite pasta sauces. Lots of tomatoes (86%), carrots and onions but its the red chillies that give it an extra spicy kick. I tend to add a tsp of garlic but you don’t have too. Arrabbiata is featured in the recipe for Pasta and meatballs.

Loyd Grossman tomato & sweet red pepper

Like most LG sauces this one is more chunky than most competitors and most M&S sauces. I don’t know if it’s just psychological but to me chunky sauces seem to give stronger flavours.  The sweet red peppers are 20% of the content which definitely influences the taste and at 54% it contains a third less tomatoes than the M&S Arrabbiata.

Al’Fez Moroccan Meatball sauce

I’ve spotted a lot more Moroccan products in stores lately so I decided to give one a try. I’m pleased that I did. This one is a thick aromatic sauce with only 28% of tomatoes. I think this helps the sauce to bring out what the jar calls authentic Moroccan flavours.  All I can say is that it works me and I’ll be trying some of their other products too.

If you have your own favourite pasta sauces please let me know.

 

My favourite curry sauces

Did I hear you say what are your favourite curry sauces? I thought so. Well to date most of my ever changing favourites come from either M&S or Loyd Grossman jars at around £2 each. Here are a few curry based examples.

The Madras curry contest – what’s HOT?

Both M&S and LG’s Madras curries state they are three chillies hot but the M&S jar is definately hotter and in my opinion better. On the flip side it does take 90 mins compared to LG’s 15 min.

Something different

In contrast I’ve just tried a one chilli rated Punjabi tomato curry from The Spice Tailor by Anjum Anand. It come in a tall cardboard sleeve with 3 separate small pouches of ingredients (spices, base sauce and main sauce). Different but very good and she tells you what each spice adds.

But the instructions say for 2-3 people

If you are only cooking for one ignore that all three companies state that their jar/packet serves 2-3 people. I just pour on as little or as much as I want of the cooked sauce. It’s usually most of it.

Can you heat dinner plates in a microwave?

Several people have asked how they can heat dinner plates in a microwave as suggest in my recipes. So here is the why and how.

When I started cooking my meals were always a bit cold. This was partially due to my inability to get every component completed at the same time but also because the plates were very cold when taken out of the cupboard.

One day I noticed that underneath my dinner plate it said microwave safe. (I later learnt that this message should perhaps have added “with food or liquid on”).       Anyway, I just heated the plate in the microwave without any food or liquid and it worked. I kept it to 2 minutes on full heat. This makes the plate slightly too hot to hold but not scalding hot which worked for me. I do this for nearly every dinner that I cook. I subsequently discovered that several of my friends also use this technique and so do a couple of restaurants. Apparently this is the only thing that John ever uses his microwave for.  Hmmm…

I also saw that Lakeland sell microwave plate warmers to spread the heat more evenly between several plates which retains heat longer when moved onto a table mat.

What do the experts say?

There are some negative views on Google and from microwave manufacturers that heating a dinner plate without food or liquid in the microwave will shorten the life of the microwave but I couldn’t find any evidence. One suggested compromise was to put a “microwave safe” lidded plastic cup of water on top of the plate in the microwave.  The downside is that the plate will not get as hot and you need to be careful with the resulting boiling hot water. It didn’t seem to be a good option to me.

The inevitable – However

If a plate does not say microwave safe on the bottom you need to be a bit more careful. Any plates with metal decoration, unglazed ceramics or damaged plates must not be used in a microwave. Fortunately the majority of everyday dinner plates that I’ve looked at in stores state that they are microwave safe so I stick with using them and I have never had a problem when I heat dinner plates in a microwave.

Please let me know about your experiences.

Who does the cooking in your house?

Who does the cooking in your house? According to one magazine less than 8% of couples share the cooking task equally. Yes females tend to do more cooking than males. Unless it’s what one friend described as “hero meals” such as barbecues or special occasions.

While working on MyInheritedKitchen.co.uk I’ve asked many people this simple question. Who does the cooking in your house?  It starts some interesting conversations and uncovers the wide range of ways that different households work together. Why not try asking your friends?

My big surprise

One of my big surprises since launching MyInheritedKitchen.co.uk is the number of mothers who told me that they have got their teenage son’s to use the simple recipes on my website to teach themselves to cook.  Of course I was flattered and wanted to find out more.

It seems that in many household mums find it hard to teach their teenage son’s about cooking. Other than natural teenage reticence the problem is that mum’s tend to be very experienced cooks who also have this natural ability to multi task. Not something males are famous for. Perhaps that’s why the cooking website of a novice male cook is needed.

Mums have employed various technics to interest their sons in cooking. The most commonly used is telling them that girls are attracted to boys who can cook. Type “are girls more attracted to boys who can cook?” into Google and you will see 31,900,000 results,  so boys maybe your mum has a good point.   Time to get started.

Rustic kitchen table

My Inherited Kitchen -The blog

My Inherited Kitchen blog is for people who have never cooked before but now find themselves in a position where they have to. For whatever reason. It’s been created to help you escape from supermarket ready meals in easy steps and be able to create simple but great meals for yourself. The connected website has lots of information about cooking, kitchens and recipes to help you survive and succeed. If you have just been thrown in the deep end it’s best for you to start there first.

What will the blog do for me?

The My Inherited Kitchen blog builds on the content on the website with the latest things that I’ve learnt as a newcomer to the world of cooking. The main aim is to cover the things that are too simple for cookery books to cover but which frustrate people like you and I because no one told us about them. For example how to choose a new recipe, does the shiny side of foil go up or down? It you can’t find the answers to questions like this let me know and I’ll try to find the answer for you. I’ll then posts answers as blogs so everyone in the My Inherited Kitchen community can find out too.  Welcome to the community.

You will find the blog on the righthand side of every page under the heading of LATEST NEWS.  

Malcolm

How many kitchen tools do I really need?

When I first inherited my kitchen I counted over 100 kitchen tools (excluding cutlery, crockery, tea towels etc). That’s more tools than I have in my shed!  When I checked with friends many of them had well over 100 kitchen tools and one just gave up counting when they exceeded 200 – and they don’t have a big kitchen.

The big question for novice cooks is how many kitchen tools do you REALLY need? The answer is 20.  Unfortunately it’s not just any 20, that would be far too easy. I set out to create a list that was as short as possible but covered everything you needed to prepare 90% of my recipes for one on the website.  Top of the list are:  oven, hob, saucepans and microwave however there are a few surprises such as a rice steamer.  Check out the other 15 kitchen tools and why I chose them at www.MyInheritedkitchen.co.uk/kitchen-tools and see if you agree with me.

Frozen chicken breast

How do I defrost a frozen chicken breast?

You have just realised that you forgot to get a frozen chicken breast out of the freezer and you are about to make dinner. Now what?  You could just swear a bit and then have something else. Unless of course that needed defrosting too!

Whenever I look at product packaging for things that can be frozen it nearly always says thaw in the fridge overnight or sometimes for 24 hours.  I could stave to death.  There must be easier ways.  You could try a very low heat in the oven or microwave but the instruction books say very little about how long it should take. Leave a product for too long and/or at too high a temperature and it will start to cook.  This is not a good idea.

The solution for frozen chicken breast

After a few experiments I decided that neither method was good for a frozen chicken breast. My solution was very simple. Get a large glass bowel and put the wrapped chicken breast into it. If the frozen chicken breast is not water tight wrapped put it into a sealed waterproof ziplock bag. Now fill the bowel with cold water. No cheating by using hot or even warm water it must be cold.  Let the cold tap run for a minute or two.  Now turn off the water and leave it for about 15 minutes – then pour away the water and repeat. For a typical 140g-180g chicken breast it should take less than an hour. You know it’s defrosted when you can gently bend the chicken breast at any point without resistance. (The principle works with most other types of frozen meat too). 

This method may delay your dinner by an hour but that better’s than 24 hours or a potentially negative reaction in the stomach area.

Chopped veg

How long do vegetables last?

How long do vegetables last?

When you are just cooking for one this becomes an important question. You certainly don’t want to eat the same vegetable every day just to avoid having to throw any away. Even if you start off liking something you’ll hate it after a week. Of course one answer is to buy smaller quantities of loose vegetables but they don’t comes with any “use buy” date. Even when you buy packed vegetables their dates tend to err on the side of caution.

How to throw away less vegetables

As a novice cook I wanted some more specific guidance on how long different vegetables typically lasted. After researching quite a few different sources I created a set of the most common “up to” times recommended for my frequently used vegetables and fruit.  What I do now is to put a yellow Post-it note on the front of the vegetable drawer and write on the date bought for any vegetable or fruit when I put in the fridge. This way I’m reminded about it every time I open the fridge.  It may not look pretty but I throw away much less vegetables now.

Recommended “up to” dates

Apples
Fridge: 3 weeks

Asparagus
Fridge: 3 days

Bananas
Work top: 5 days (keep away from any other fruit)

Bell peppers
Fridge: 5 days (red, yellow, and orange). One week for Green.

Broccoli
Fridge: 1 week

Carrots
Fridge: 2 weeks

Celery
Fridge: 2 weeks

Ginger
Fridge: 3 weeks

Herbs, leafy or soft such as Basil, Coriander and Tarragon
Fridge: 3 days  (I always have jars of theses too.)

Herbs, woody or hard such as Rosemary, Oregano and Thyme
Fridge: 2 weeks

Leeks
Fridge: 1 week

Lemons
Fridge: 3 weeks

Mushrooms
Fridge: 1 week (in a paper bag)

Onions
Pantry: 2 months, Fridge top shelf: 2 weeks
Fridge: 4 days (cut)

Oranges
Worktop: 3 days
Fridge: 2 weeks

Parsnips
Fridge: 1 month

Potatoes
Pantry: 3 weeks, Fridge two weeks (wrapped in brown bags)

Tomatoes
Worktop: 3 days

The overriding rule of course is that if things don’t look right or smell right throw them out. You are allowed to throw away unused vegetables too if you are really bored them but don’t admit to it.

My spice jars

What herbs and spices are used in your kitchen?

I thought you might ask. Here’s a picture of the herbs and spices in my kitchen.

My spice jars

Basil, Cajun spice mix, Chicken seasoning, Chilli, Chinese 5 spice, Cinnamon, Coriander, Ginger, Herbs de Provence, Italian herbs, Nutmeg, Oregano, Paprika, Parsley, Pilau seasoning, Rosemary, Sage, Steak seasoning, Star Anise, Tarragon and Thyme.   The most frequently used are in bold.

(If you want to know more about my most frequently used herbs and what foods they go with visit the herbs and spices page on the website.) 

Do you really store your jars like the picture?

The answer is yes – this is a picture of how I actually store them. I tried inherited wheels and racks but they always hid some jars which I ended up not using. Now there is no hiding place in my cupboard and I can see at a glance everything that I have. This leads to much more “I wonder what would happen if …?” experimenting – some of which is actually successful.

With some help from my friends (rather a lot actually) I created the Herbs matched to food guide. It’s a simple one page PDF that you can print and keep by the herbs and spices.

Erm.. I don’t understand any of this

If you don’t know what a herb or spice is and don’t have a clue what to do with them get started by visiting the herbs and spices page on the website.

Fresh vegetables

Should vegetables be kept in the fridge?

It seems like such a simple question but Google “Should vegetables be kept in the fridge?”and you get 716,000 results. It’s obviously not quite as simple as it appears. Instead of ploughing through 716,000 results I thought that it would be quicker to find out what fridge manufacturers actually called the bottom tray in their fridges. On my not very scientific survey 20% were Salad drawers, 24% Vegetable drawers and Others came in at 5%. The number one result at 51% was a Crisper drawer.  Clever fridge manufacturers keeping out of the debate.

So what is the simple answer? Should vegetables be kept in the fridge?

The answer is yes but with a few exceptions. Apparently potatoes and onions don’t like being with each other and it’s even worse if they are in a fridge together. They both end up getting hurt. Lots of Google results recommend storing potatoes in paper bags in a pantry. Onion are also apparently best stored in the pantry but with space for air to circulate. Ok, hands up who has a pantry? I thought not.

The my inherited kitchen compromise is to keep the onions on the top shelf of the fridge where it is less cold and they are protected by the rarely used products abandoned there. The potatoes are taken out of their plastic bag and put into paper bags in the “Crisper” drawer.  I think that it works but if you have a better idea please add a comment below.

Wok cooking

It’s only wok and oil – but I like it

If you’ve had a look at some of the recipes on the My Inherited Kitchen website you may have spotted that quite a few of them use a wok. I am definitely a big fan and I’ve discovered lots of other wok fans in the My Inherited Kitchen community too. They tend fall into two specific categories. Those that have their wok for a long time and those that have a non stick wok.  This was obviously something that I had to find out more about.

Why don’t non stick woks last as long?

The simple answer is that a wok was not designed to be non stick in the first place – but of course you knew that. The problem is that some of the creators of recipes don’t seem to be aware that non stick woks need to treated differently. I’m sure that you have seen cooking instructions that say “heat your dry wok on high” or “make sure the wok is very hot”.

Now this may come as a shock but some manufacturers of non stick woks have a different set of instructions which are sometimes within the terms and conditions of their guarantee. They use phrases such as “never put a wok on the hob without a liquid in it” and “avoid getting the wok too hot”.  For us newbie cooks this can be somewhat confusing.  The choice is don’t buy a non stick wok or just be really careful. I love my non stick wok so I’ve decided to be really careful. Here’s how.

Wok rules

  1. Never put the wok on the hob without a liquid in it.
  2. Use regular olive oil because it takes the heat better than virgin olive oil or better still use groundnut oil.
  3. Raise the heat gradually in steps starting at heat 4
  4. Never use on 9 (the highest setting on my hob)
  5. After cooking always put the wok on an unused cold hob ring or trivit
  6. Never put it in the sink or in water when it is still hot
  7. When it’s cold let it soak in warm water before cleaning it
  8. Never put it in the dish washer
  9. Always clean it with a soft sponge
  10. Tell it how much you appreciate all the nice meals it cooks for you

It’s too early to tell if I’m wasting my time or not but I’ll let you know how well my non stick wok survives.

Measuring spoons

How big is a tablespoon?

When I first inherited my kitchen duties I thought that a tablespoon was the type of spoon you use to eat while sitting at a table. After a few weeks I discovered that it wasn’t. For some strange reason it’s a spoon that you use to serve at a table. I thought that would be called a serving spoon not a tablespoon, oh well. I’ve also learnt that what I thought was a tablespoon is in fact dessertspoon. Armed with this new information would obviously help me make better meals because I’d be using the right quantities.

Hunt the tablespoon

The next task was to look around my inherited kitchen to see if I could find a serving spoon, sorry tablespoon. I was so pleased when I found two serving/tablespoons. The problem is that they were both different sizes and held different amounts of liquid.  How could this be?

The only explanation I could think of was a plot to make everyone use metric measurements instead of vague old fashioned terms based on spoons that are used for other purposes.  I don’t know who the plotters were (perhaps measuring spoon manufacturers?)  but they succeeded with me. I went out and bought some measuring spoons which can’t be used for anything else other than measuring.

Measuring spoons

If I was doing an Amazon review of them I’d have to say that because they are bowl shaped they are actually easier to use than spoons designed for another purpose. As a result it’s easier to see how much liquid is in the spoon and I definitely spill less messy oil.

Conversion tables

To help you not just with the spoons issue but with other volume, weights, measurements and temperature conversions have a look at the My Inherited Kitchen conversion-tables.

 

Onion

Can you dice an onion?

As quite a few recipes ask for diced onion I thought that I’d have to give it a try. It looks easy when the TV chefs dice while talking so it can’t be that hard. Or can it? In spite of some help from Google and YouTube things were still messy with odd bits onion everywhere and it didn’t look at all like the results from the TV chefs. Since I’d tried everything else the only other thing to do was to blame the tools that I was using. So I went out to buy a new knife.

An onion success

Every time that a recipe calls for diced onions I can now add perfectly diced onions. This is because on the way back from buying the new knife I went into Waitrose to buy some frozen vegetables. It was then that I saw the real My Inherited Kitchen style of solution – frozen diced onions.  They are great. Add as much or as little as you need without having to perform surgery on a whole onion. I’m sure that I’ll find another use for the knife.

 

Kitchen foil

Foil shiny side up or down?

Having managed (not on the first attempt) to tear off the right amount of kitchen foil I faced the big question. Does the shiny side go on top or underneath?  Whenever I see  people with sandwiches the shiny side always seems to be on the outside but is it the same when using the foil for cooking?

The obvious place to look is on the box. As you may know already it doesn’t say anything at all, so I asked three friends and got three different answers.  Not exactly helpful. When I found the answer though I discovered than none of my friends were doing it “wrong” because – it doesn’t matter.  Both sides have the same properties. The only reason that one side is dull and the other is shiny is the production process for making the foil.

So problem solved?

Yes but that’s not quite the end of the story. I’ve discovered that there are some types of foil that have a non stick coating and before you ask it’s on the dull side.

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