Experimenting with food in the kitchen

Do we have to be Nigella Lawson or Delia Smith to make lovely meals, or can we use kitchen experiments as our ancestors did? Is cooking really an art form and should we be as rigid as stick to our recipe books for inspiration? I think not.

The one thing that I have learned over the years is that the only recipes which need to be precisely measured are ones that involve baking.

The three most used kitchen gadgets in my life are my bread maker, mixer and slow cooker, yet I rarely use a recipe book. At times, I am tempted, but whatever I have in the kitchen tends to make the decision on how food will be cooked. I take my hat off to meal planners as they know what to buy in advance for their cooking.

What have I learned over the years of cooking for my family?

Leftovers make wonderful second day meals

Pastry dishes, stir fry meals, fillings for pitta bread with salad, and using herbs and spices means that the family won't get bored eating the same things. With chicken or beef pieces, I simply stir fry with vegetables and sauces, and serve with combinations of rice, cous cous, naan bread or crackers. None of these things need measured or graded. If there is a little too much fluid, you simply drain it off, if there isn't enough, you add more.

Variety is your friend

I shake up and make savoury meals feel different by adding combinations of my favourite ingredients.

-cinnamon

-ginger

-garlic

-chives

-mild chilli

-parsley

-white wine or balsamic vinegar

-nutmeg

-soy sauce

-mango chutney

-cranberry sauce

-sweet & sour sauce

-cream

-caramelised onions

-sun dried tomatoes

-lemon juice

I make a chicken supreme from chicken pieces, shallow pan fried with onions and soy sauce. I add a white sauce and serve with rice. The kids love it, and often add some mild chilli.

Vegetables are lovely pan fried with leftover meat. Add a sweet & sour sauce with cinnamon & nutmeg to taste, and set on a bed of noodles made with garlic & ginger for a taste bud sensation.

Slow cooking is for busy people

Throwing almost anything in the pot and coming back 8 hours later to a beautifully cooked meal is simplicity itself.

Favourite slow cooked meals at home are usually simple and easily made, like sausage hotpot, or mince and tatties, although soups and meat are thrown on quite regularly. Slow cooking a pork dish for 24 hours was to die for, as the meat just fell apart when it was ready. It was perfect for salads and sandwiches.

Breadcrumbing / ruskolining is an art

Trying to make home-made chicken nuggets and fish fingers ended up as huge disasters on my first few attempts, with sad and bald areas on the meat. It took a few attempts for me to realise that the meat had to be dried. The trick is to cut the meat to size, roll it in plain flour, then dab it in egg before rolling the meat around in the crumbs. With a slow shallow fry, perfection is achieved.

Baking is a cinch

When I first began baking, I thought I could treat it in the same way that I approached my other cooking, with a dab of this, and a dash of that. The science of baked goods has to be respected, or as I know from experience, we can end up with a dollop of mush for our efforts. It pays to follow baking tips from recipes.

Short crust pastry is so easy to make in the mixer that I never buy it anymore. I often roll the pastry out onto the bottom of a baking tin. I simply throw on toppings like vegetables and cheese for a full meal. After trying to bake bread by hand, I gave up with the effort and time that it took. I dived in with a bread maker to make the popular pizza, hot dog buns, sandwich bread and ciabatta.

Chill out

It's worth experimenting. Try small amounts, and if what you make doesn't work, try something different the next time. I do keep notes in case I find something extraordinarily fabulous. I think I will remember what I put into meals, but I am old enough to know that in reality, I won't remember the ingredient combination of any spectacular dishes.