Ask Peter: Kitchen secrets
What's your guilty (or not so guilty) kitchen secret? Ed
I recall a friend being quite shocked when they came to my home and saw I had a microwave. They said they assumed I never used it. When I said I used it to reheat the odd ready meal from the supermarket and to make my version of “instant porridge” they were flabbergasted.
It made me realise that, as a well-known chef with restaurants in various countries, the author of eight cookbooks with a TV presence, I had made it seem I wouldn’t ever use what I consider to be a very useful tool. It made me realise that there must also be some belief that time-saving devices are only for those who aren’t really foodies as such. So, here are some of the things that I do that I hope aren’t too shocking.
In winter I have two ways to make a sort-of-porridge. The first is very simple and the most common way I start the day. I put the kettle on, pour boiling water over my bowl of muesli or granola, then head to the shower. Once I’m dried and dressed I head back to the kitchen and pop the bowl in the microwave for 20 seconds before dolloping on some sheep’s or goat’s milk yoghurt. I have a lovely bowl of warmth and then head out into the day.
If I have slightly more time, but not enough to make a bowl of porridge from scratch, then I pour soy milk over rolled porridge oats (I’m not a fan of milk — although I love cheese, mascarpone etc) and blitz it in the microwave. Yoghurt usually ends up on top, or some stewed fruits I’ll likely have in the fridge that I’ve made. I see this “quick fix”as an essential part of my winter mornings when I really don’t want to have a bowl of cold cereal.
Ready meals — to be honest I probably eat one every few weeks and if I’m in the UK it’s likely to be a curry or a chunky soup, something that I think benefits from being a few days old, like a stew. Therefore I have no issues with buying them ready made, if I don’t have time.
The supermarket ones can be terrific and tasty. As I have, over the years, worked with various supermarkets on recipes, I know just how much time goes into getting something made and on the shelf.
The other thing that microwaves are good for is melting chocolate and butter — for either cake making or hollandaise. You needn’t have a pot of simmering water to use as a double boiler (which you’ll then have to wash) and you can easily control the melt speed. I also like the fact that any leftovers from dinner or the local takeaway (or even a cold toasted sandwich) can be reheated in a fraction of the time of a conventional oven and that you are most probably using less power to do so.
And since I’ve released my cookbook Savour, I’ve been trying to spread the word that when you pour water over couscous to soak it, you should never use boiling water — even though all packets of couscous and most books tell you to do so. Only use tepid or cold water, then your grains won’t clump together.
If you want to serve it hot, after it’s soaked for 20 minutes or so, either heat it up in a covered dish in a low oven, or blast it in the microwave! Perfect couscous with a really helpful modern-ish tool.
More kitchen and cooking secrets from the Bite team...
After reading Peter’s microwave exposé, I have to tell you about one of the best. most cost-effective kitchen tools I have ever bought. With just a teeny bit of water, the Sistema microwave steamer produces, among other things, perfect broccoli (the best I have ever had) in three minutes, asparagus in two and beautiful steamed baby potatoes, with all the taste, in four minutes. As I recall my big one cost $12, on special at the supermarket. I bought a little one for my daughter straight after. I use mine almost every day.
Isobel Marriner, chief sub-editor
My family are chilli mad and we buy chilli flakes from Chinese grocers in Mt Albert, about $4.50 for 200g.
Shoba Pillai, digital production editor
I visit Middle Eastern stores to buy fresh dates and jars of jalapeños. We seem to go through phenomenal amounts of both at home. I buy 600g boxes of fresh Iranian Mazafati dates for about $7. They are moist and delicious. And I pick up a pack of fresh medjool dates when I am in an Asian market, $1-$2 cheaper than in regular supermarkets. Jalapeños in a Middle Eastern store cost me $3.50 for a 600g jar. Great value.
Suzanne Dale, writer
One of my secrets when making a white sauce (what the French call bechamel) is, once I’ve briefly cooked the flour and butter and whisked in my milk, to add a studded onion (half an onion with a dried or fresh bayleaf pegged to the cut side by two whole cloves). It’s this that gives my white sauce that je ne sais quoi — that mysterious mouth-filling flavourful deliciousness. My other little secret is to simmer the sauce on the lowest possible heat for a good 20 minutes. This helps develop the onion flavours, gets rid of that “floury” taste, and makes for a creamy, velvety sauce. Well-made white sauce is my essential at this time of year for cauliflower cheese, macaroni and smoked fish pie.
It’s not a secret so much as my life-saver, and that is teaching yourself to crush garlic using the blade of a sharp knife, salt, and a little elbow grease. The salt acts as a grit (much like sandpaper) forcing the garlic to break down into a paste, as you scrape over the roughly chopped garlic, pulling the knife towards you and down on to the board, in a repetitive motion. Hold the knife with both hands, one at the hilt, and one near the pointy end at the back of the knife. Use a coarse sea salt, approximately 1-2 tsp depending on the number of cloves you’re crushing. I find the garlic cooks out much more evenly in the dish when prepared this way.
I have a metal pull-out drawer where I keep eggs and a block of butter so I always have them at room temperature.
Because I get to travel a lot and stay in hotels, something I’ve learned from food writer Nici Wickes is to hoard disposable shower caps. They make perfect covers for bowls of food in the fridge.
It’s not much of a secret because every person who enters the Bite kitchen sees the Electrolux Ergorapido being used or standing pretty on its charger in the corner waiting to go (they do call this the ‘i-pod’ of the vacuum industry). I’m a barefoot in the kitchen type of girl and crumbs underfoot make this cook grouchy, so they need to be attended to instantly. The breakfast-eater in the family who every morning, without fail, leaves toast crumbs around the island bench has the Ergorapido to thank for his long-standing relationship!