Here are a few techniques, hints, and pointers that I have picked up along the way.
SOMETIMES MORE IS MORE
In 2008 I went to Lazio in Italy on a cooking holiday. My tutor, Matilde (pictured), taught me many things, but one very valuable lesson in particular...
... sometimes more is more!
The more olive oil, herbs, and salt you put in the more flavour you will get out!
BAKING PAPER Vs. GREASEPROOF PAPER
Baking paper - coated on both sides with silicone.
Line cake & tart tins
Use on baking sheets and trays
Use when baking pastry 'blind' because it will leave your pastry soggy due to condensation.
Greaseproof Paper - unbleached and soaks up excess grease
Use it when baking pastry 'blind'
Use it to store/ wrap fatty foods
Think that it is 'non-stick'! It must be greased with oil or butter to make it non-stick.
When cooking with tomato puree it is best to add it at the beginning of the cooking process. Tomato puree needs to be 'cooked out' for at least five minutes before stock and so on are added. This allows the puree to act as a concentrate... and do what it says on the tin!
BONES FOR STOCK
One of the best tips that I every received was to ask your local butcher for bones.
Butchers have to pay for their bone bin to be emptied so they're usually quite happy to give them away!
I generally use the stock to make soups. Stock can be quite salty (especially ham stock) and so it only suits certain recipes.
This is a great tip because the ingredient is free of charge and all of the goodness in the bone is used before it gets thrown away.
I don't do eggs, but luckily Matthew does! Here's his tip:
You can create perfect poached eggs in a frying pan of boiling water (with a dash of malt vinegar in the water) without having to do that cunning 'whirlpool' thing you may have seen chefs do on TV.
The 'cheat' version is to take an egg and roll it around for a few seconds in the boiling water. The 'white' of the egg will start to cook inside the shell. Take the egg out and crack it as you normally would, and drop the egg into the water from a low height. The tiny amount of cooking inside the shell will hold the egg in a neat, self-contained, circle and it won't spread out across the bottom of the pan.
To raise 225g of flour in a standard bread recipe you could use the following types of yeast:
10g of fresh yeast
5g of dried action yeast
It is always best to use the type of yeast stated in the recipe that you are following. If, however, you can't then the above conversion can be used... be aware that the rising times may vary though!
Rather than keeping chillis in the fridge, I store mine in the freezer. This means I can have a constant supply of good quality chilli peppers and they are so much easier to de-seed and chop because, in a frozen state, the juice doesn't impregnate your skin... no chilli juice on your skin = no sore eyes when you absent-mindedly rub them!
KNOWING WHEN A CAKE IS READY
When the timer goes off and you need to check whether or not the cake is done, here are a couple of handy tips:
1) Press lightly on the top of the cake. It should feel springy and any indentation left should quickly rise back up.
2) Place a skewer in the centre of the cake. If, when you withdraw it, it comes out clean then the cake is ready. If crumbs are attached, it needs a few more minutes!
GET TO KNOW YOUR LOCAL BUTCHER
I moved to Cheshire in late 2009 and straight away started to find the best places to find great local produce. This has been true everywhere I have lived, all over the UK.
In my current home I found the right places to go by asking the older ladies who worked behind the counter in Oxfam where, locally, sold the best lamb.
They were quick to tell me I should go to a local butcher, Steve Brooks, in Sandbach.
When I went there I picked up a leaflet advertising a butchery course, and I quickly signed up to do it - over three weeks I learned how to do different cuts of lamb, beef, and pork.
Best of all I got to fulfil a lifelong dream of making my own sausages... and when I brought them home I was able to use them to tempt both my cats and my husband!
If you love to cook as much as I do I can thoroughly recommend cookery courses like the Italian one that I went on (see 'Sometimes More is More').
This kind of course teaches you the 'feel' for cooking that a book or a website cannot hope to give you.
Matthew and I also went to Simpsons in Solihull where we had exposure to the kind of thought processes and attention to detail that goes into culinary creation in a Michelin Star restaurant.
Cut the peppers ion half and place them on the baking tray skin side up, with oil to ensure that they roast evenly.
Put the peppers into the oven (200°C) for 20 minutes, or until the skins begin to blacken.
When the skins of the peppers have started to blacken take them out of the oven, place them in a plastic sandwich bag and tie a knot in it. They should be left for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes open the bag and place the peppers on to a chopping board and allow them to cool a little. This process allows you to pull the skins off the pepper halves.
HOW TO JOINT A CHICKEN
Separate the legs and breast with a diagonal cut between them. Legs are left with the backbone still in and the breast is left as a 'crown'.
Remove the tips of the feet and dispose of them.
Remove the legs from the backbone by breaking through the oyster joint. Both legs are now removed from the backbone which may be used for making stock.
The legs can be jointed into thighs and drumsticks, both of which can be flavoured with coating or skinned and used in casseroles.
The breasts can now be filleted by following down the breastbone and around the rib cage. Take care to leave no meat on the carcass to maximise your money. Repeat the process on the other side.
Both breasts are now filleted leaving the rib cage, which should be used for stock.
The wings can be removed leaving a chicken breast 'supreme'.
What to do with the bits that aren't breast?
I actually prefer the flavour of grey meat, particularly the thighs. I like to use this meat for casseroles and curries.