the joys of the kitchen

so today, i cooked myself dinner for the first time in my flat in London. wow!

now pray do not judge my inability to cook – all my life i have been blessed by a mum who always cooks up delicious home cooked healthy nutritious wonderful food that comes hot on the table, and then bakes even more delicious but not-so-healthy things to boot, and to bring to camp too, to keep me in my boots.

so i have grown up with good smells emnating from the kitchen, and while i was in secondary school and a growing boy, the first words out of my mouth when i stepped home would be ‘hi mum what’s for dinner?’ after a while i started guessing what was cooking just by sniffing the air, and i must say i got quite good at this guessing game. another part of growing up is watching mum prepare food and bake… of course not for extended periods of time, given that my attention is paid more than necessary to things like the xbox.

so i decide to cook today, given that i have the time to do so. i decide to do pasta, which is hard to go wrong with, and something that mum always cooks at home. and i decide to try my hand at one of those purportedly 5-minute mug cake recipes.

off i go to my local Sainsbury’s and start looking for things. i am quite excited about the mug cake so i dutifully locate the cocoa, the flour, etc etc. meanwhile i am whatsapping mum and asking her how to store the beef, how much to use, etc. i get an online whatsapp lesson in how to fry mince beef, along with all the pro-tips that come with experience. however, as we shall see, i am to later fall prey to inexperience. with groceries in hand and what to do in my head, off i head to the kitchen. whee!

as every well-trained son of the Low household does, i wash up everything and clean up the work area. then i approach the problem of cooking like attacking a defensive position – timings and G&T, what to do, ammo to prepare, stores to load, etc. i have laid out my stuff! today’s target is fusilli with minced beef and mushrooms, with tomato sauce. yes i cheated and used the tomato sauce that comes in a bottle.

so i start by preparing everything. i throw the minced beef in the freezer once i get back (even before i do the washing), then proceed to pour out one plateful of pasta, and clean and quarter my mushrooms. i dutifully wrap up the rest of the pasta, and keep the unused mushrooms inside a food bag, putting them inside the freezer. my cutting skills clearly leave much to be desired as my mushrooms are rather unevenly shaped, but it doesn’t bother me too much… we’re looking for survival, not presentation. i heat up the stove and start boiling the water, and add a teaspoon of salt into the water as mum tells me to do. in the pasta goes and i set my timer for 8 minutes. then i heat up the frying pan… and take out the beef, only to realize that crap, i should have taken it out earlier to defrost. oh well.

i put olive oil into the frying pan and then pop my quartered mushrooms in, stirring them around. i become really absorbed in trying to cook my mushrooms evenly (see i should have cut them nicely). they turn out pretty okay, add i add a little pinch of salt and a dash of pepper. ooh la la! next comes the beef. at a loss of what to do, i decide to dump the whole 250g lump of minced beef into the pan. as it starts to brown i realize – OH NO! forgot to break it up and now its clumping together. what follows is some ungainly struggling with my spatula to break up the half-frozen and half-cooking beef into smaller bits  before it becomes an overcooked hamburger patty.  suddenly at the 5 minute mark (this with the benefit of hindsight) my pot of pasta begins to boil over. whoops! mum did tell me that pasta boils really fast. water comes out. oh no. and this while my beef is being broken up halfway. aargh! what did i say about inexperience?

i turn the heat down on the pasta and decide to just let it boil away, concentrating on my beef. after the beef is in acceptably small bits i realize… i forgot to stir my pasta. oh dear. some vigorous stirring ensues but i don’t think it makes much of a difference. at 8 minutes i test the pasta. it’s a bit hard. back to the beef. the shrooms are sitting on a separate plate (at least i thought of that, whew). they smell nice and earthy and mushroomy. beef! ahh! i add tabasco and pepper to season and throw it around a bit more before separating it into two portions, and taking out half to keep. next it’s time to drain the pasta, after i turn down the heat on the pan. i take out the pasta (after 10 minutes, it’s just nice, al dente!) and put it onto my plate… only to find out, whoops, that’s a LOT of pasta. i guess 170g of pasta was a bit too much. but never fear! that’s the least of my worries.

i then dump the mushrooms back with the beef, and open up my bottle of tomato sauce and spoon it into the frying pan. it starts sizzling and making cooking noises. at this point i would like to think that it’s doing something cool, like reducing, and the flavour of the beef and the shrooms are integrating into the sauce but i’m afraid reality dictates that the water content in the tomato sauce is simply evaporating. nevertheless i toss it around a bit until it isn’t too watery, and promptly, without much ceremony, pour the thing over my pasta, trying very hard to lay it out evenly and hoping that it doesn’t spill over. it doesn’t. i’m saved.

first things first! stoves turned off and implements into the sink to soak, then my plate goes onto the table. it’s time to try out my own cooking – if you could call it that. i toss it around… clearly plating and presentation is not my strong point when it comes to food. well lets see. its’ edible and tastes alright, and the pasta is just how i like it. i’m afraid the positives end around there. i overcooked the beef a little, and its still in small chunks, not nicely distributed and minced. should have added more mushrooms! and a little more salt would be nice. i think the pre-made tomato sauce saved me. all in all i am very satisfied with what i have done. yum yum. i gobble up my food and then proceed to wash up everything, before moving on to…

mug cake!

which is simple, really, i told myself. just throw everything together and mix, how hard can it get? it says 5 minutes, right?

good thing i watched my mum bake before. so i dutifully added all the dry stuff before adding the liquid stuff.

however, things to note:

1) i need a sifting-thingie

2) i need a proper measuring spoon set. agar-ation might do for mug cake but not for more complex stuff

3) mixing by hand is no go

4) chocolate is really hard to handle. i couldn’t find chocolate chips so i bought a block of dark chocolate and started chopping it up. i had lots of trouble chopping it up evenly! and then it starts melting and my not-so-deft hands are making it slightly difficult to handle the knife and chocolate… it starts melting and i inevitably start licking. oh dear.

5) its really difficult to spoon the mixture into the cup nicely, how does mum do it????

6) it’s really good that mum isn’t there to stop me from licking up all the bits of cake mix

okay so then comes the fun bit of pushing the chocolate chips into the mug. in my enthusiasm for chocolate i dump a bunch of unevenly-chopped chocolate onto the mix in the cup, and attempt to push it into the center in order to form the wonderful lava-ish center. my technical skill is clearly not up to my intention… i end up stirring chocolate bits into the mix. for a bit of extravagance i add a thin layer of chocolate chips on top.

the end result is not perfect but is chocolatey enough to eat, and my two flatmates who taste it both respond with suitably appropriate ‘oh my its good’ that you normally hear when lots of chocolate and cocoa is present in something baked.

1) need to rethink the way that i build it. maybe put one dollop of mixture, build the chocolate center, then more mug cake? that will make sure the center is nice and runny and flowy.

2) mixture needs to be lighter. it’s a bit too dense for my liking, has to be a bit fluffier. how?

3) less flour, more cocoa :D but cocoa is expensive…

4) more chocolate!!!!!! where did that chocolate poem i wrote go?

5) need a bigger bowl to make larger quantities

6) 5 minutes is a scam, i took like 20 minutes

so. it is finished! my first meal, done all by myself, with no supervision, except whatsapp advice and a little mug cake recipe (gotta find more mug cake recipes). i am very satisfied – there is something extremely nice about the creating that goes on in cooking. though the washing up and cleaning is not nice. but the planning and execution… ah! the precision of great cooking! oh my. its good. i am inordinately proud of my rather minor achievement.

more importantly – cooking isn’t easy! especially if you’ve done it day after day after day. have to think of what to buy, what to cook, dread the washing up, blah blah. dear mum, if you are reading this (as i know you will be, o stalker mum of mine), thank you for cooking and baking all these complicated things that you know i like to eat, and for always making the effort to do the extra work like chopping onions and garlic just so that whatever is cooking tastes better, and for washing up and cleaning up and making sure every dish is served hot, and for telling me how and why different things are done in the kitchen (though ‘why, mum?’ has been around since i understood the concept of ‘why’), and packing good things like brownies and cookies for me to bring to school ever since i had a lunchbox, and packing my lunchbox every day of school since 1997 to 2008, then after that a big tupperware of food every weekend from 2009 to 2010, and all the apple crumble and yummy things in between, and doing all this without complaining and with a heart of love.

also, can you learn to make carrot cake? the super dense kind with layers and layers of cream cheese and walnuts and other delicious nuts.


2 thoughts on “the joys of the kitchen

  1. YH says:

    yay good job zach sounds delicious! maybe your real mum has told you this by now, but if you buy meat with the intention of using it within the first 2-3 days, don’t put it in the freezer? I hate defrosting meat. hate hate hate

  2. Eileen says:

    Ok. Let me test on daddy first. If he approves, the whole world will.

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