When I lived with my parents years ago, I was blessed to have an oven with a stable temperature and a working fan. I didn’t realise it at the time, but moving out of home marked the start of more than five years of walking through a culinary desert. Cooking just wasn’t fun any more – and eating out was so much more adult and sophisticated!
Last August I moved into a house with an amazing kitchen, and slowly my desire to cook has come back. It’s not a desert I’m walking through any more, it’s a dessert. Here’s a selection of the things I’ve made, just in the last week:
Amazingly, despite the above evidence, I’m actually fitter and healthier than I was – I’m exercising more, and I’m eating out far less than in the past.
Now that university classes and exams have finished for the year, I have a lot more free time on my hands. Today I decided to make chicken stock. A few days ago we bought a roasted chicken from the supermarket to use the meat in sandwiches. We also got a chicken pasta bake from the meat as well. I wanted to use the entire bird (waste not want not). Also, stock is delicious. Especially home-made stock.
Note that this is just what I did… I’m not saying this is a perfect recipe.
The bones and skin from one (preferably free-range) roasted chicken.
A large onion.
About eight baby carrots. You could use one large one.
A stick of celery.
A few peppercorns.
A small handful of herbs.
Break any large chicken bones into small pieces (this will help get the good bits out of the marrow) and divide the carcass up a bit smaller as well. Chuck it all in a large saucepan.
Cut up the carrots and celery into small chunks. Chuck those into the pot.
Cut the onion (with the skin still on) into quarters. Chuck that in the pot.
Add enough cold water to the pot to cover the other ingredients well.
Add a few peppercorns and whatever herbs you have handy (I used a small handful) into the pot.
Put the saucepan on to boil, covered.
When the saucepan is boiling, reduce the heat to low and remove the lid. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface.
Leave it to simmer for three to four hours, then remove from the heat.
Leave it to cool, then strain liquid and discard solids.
Use the completed stock within four days, or freeze it.
Note that one bird doens’t make a huge amount of stock (probably about a litre), so it’s probably worth stockpiling the bones and skins until you have two or three. I was just impatient.
In my mind, there is very little doubt that cooking is both one of life’s greatest pleasures and one of life’s greatest skills. Far too many people still cannot cook well enough. Jamie Oliver seems to agree with me.
Luckily for me, when I still only a small child my mum started teaching me how to cook. One of the first things I ever cooked by myself (of real recipes, not toast and the like) was these biscuits. They are extremely simple, and extremely tasty.
It’s quite possible to leave the chocolate chips out of this recipe altogether, in which case you’ll end up with peanut butter biscuits. You don’t need to make any other modifications to do this.
110g of peanut butter (whether it is smooth or crunchy doesn’t matter, but I prefer crunchy)
110g of room-temperature butter (use refrigerated butter if you like playing life on hard mode, and use margarine if you like me haunting you in your sleep)
200g of caster sugar (or any other sugar you like)
1 large egg
220g of self-raising flour (you can substitute plain flour for denser cookies, and gluten-free plain flour will work too if there are people in your life you like keeping alive)
Add the butter and sugar to the bowl, and mix together until there aren’t any lumps of butter left.
Add the egg, and mix together.
Add the flour and the chocolate chips, and mix together.
Grease some oven trays if necessary (I use three trays, your trayage may vary). I have used a spray can of vegetable oil to grease in the past, but these days I just use non-stick oven trays.
Spoon the mixture (using a teaspoon) onto the trays. The size of the balls should be about 1″ across and 0.5″ high (roughly). Leave about 3-4″ between biscuit centres. If you wanted to measure by weight, I make each biscuit around 40 grams.
Then flatten down the biscuits slightly with a fork, creating faint lines in the top.
Put them in the oven. The hardest part of the whole recipe is figuring out when they’re done. About 12-16 minutes is usual. 12 minutes will get you softer biscuits, 16 minutes will get you harder biscuits.
About 5 minutes after taking them out of the oven, pry them off the trays and place them on a cooling rack.
It’s easiest to put the mixing bowl on the scales, tare (zero) the scales, then add the ingredients by weight.
If you don’t have a cooling rack, put the biscuits back on the oven tray upside-down. The idea is to let the moisture out of the biscuits so they will be chewy and crunchy instead of soft and floppy.