Bite-sized delight
September 5, 2010, 10:20 am
Filed under: Cooking, food | Tags: , , , , , ,

I went for dinner at a friend’s house on Friday night and was assigned the task of bringing dessert. I didn’t really have time to bake anything so when pitching alternatives to the lovely girls in my office, we concluded that strawberries dipped in chocolate were a good idea. I had never attempted them before but figured they couldn’t be that difficult to make, and they weren’t. They were a real success at dinner (and before, as we kept sneaking them from the tin) and those that wouldn’t fit into the cake tin were popular with my flatmates too.

Cupcake celebration

As it’s my last full-time week at my old job, I’ve made some cupcakes to bring in tomorrow. It has become something of a habit to bring in my baked goods to work. Baking is a brilliant way to let off steam and forget the stresses of the day, and I guess I’ve been a bit stressed recently so I’ve been baking a lot. These are chocolate cupcakes, each with a chunk of white chocolate in the centre. The frosting is cream cheese with a hint of vanilla. Do you like my new cake tins, by the way? They were a birthday present from my mum and a lovely addition to my kitchenware.

I wish I had the momentum to write something more interesting, but I just don’t have it right now. If all goes to plan, the hunt for a summer flat may have come to an end. My poor, insanely tired body can’t take much more trekking around after work to view flats. I feel like I’m too busy to take everything in, and that’s never a good feeling. I’ve spent some time lounging in parks and various eateries, however, in between work and viewings. It’s funny how much you can fit into small windows of time!

Music to cook to

I tend to keep my laptop (relatively) nearby when I cook so I can bop along to music. When cooking something savoury, I tend to choose upbeat, bouncy songs. Today, as I cooked a smoked fish gratin, I chose Prince (although he tends to be a firm favourite no matter what the occasion), Magic System and Gogol Bordello. I was slightly late onto the Gogol Bordello bandwagon, but now I’m on it I’m quite happy to nod along while chopping smoked fish and boiling new potatoes.

When making something sweet, I tend towards motown. There’s something saccharine about motown that just goes with baking.

As for today’s dish of creamy smoked fish gratin…

For my birthday, my boyfriend’s mum bought me these lovely cookbooks. As I’m looking to move out soon, she thought I’d need some no-frills recipes and these books each contain two hundred, only one page to each recipe. I’m so excited to try them all – starting today.

I had a flick through the ‘curries’ book…

And through the ‘one pot meals’ book…

But eventually the smoked fish gratin caught my eye in the ‘easy suppers’ book.

Just look how it turned out. I’m so full from eating it but I still think it looks yummy.

Served with new potatoes and salad with a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Learning to cook was a real rite of passage for me. The women in my family are amazing cooks and I was quite late to take an interest in the preparation of food. Now that I’ve tried a few things and can put ingredients together and have them taste nice, my confidence is picking up. It’s a therapeutic process – starting from deciding on a recipe, buying the ingredients, daringly substituting any ingredients for other ones or adding in something spontaneously, preparing the dish, eating the dish, and feeling full and satisfied afterwards. The dishes had been scraped bare by the end of today’s meal, which is always a good sign.

I think I’m also developing a feel for cooking potatoes. My aunty on my Irish side has got an enviable knack for it, but I’m getting there slowly but surely. The secret is not to overseason or overcook the potatoes, but to cook them in a way that helps you taste the flavour of the potato itself, not of excessive ingredients you add to the pot. When I was growing up, potatoes were served bare; no butter or other condiment was to be found near them. It’s a principle I’d like to carry on in my cooking – trying to make the best of the basic flavours, not conceal them with convoluted mixtures.