Weekly Reading #1

Every Sunday, I’ll share the most interesting articles I’ve read on cooking, eating and food culture that week.

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In my kitchen this week: the last few tomatoes from the garden that managed to evade Zool’s clutches.

 

General

  • The Serious Eats Guide to Food Photography. A serious (but not intimidating) guide to food photography from Serious Eats. Alright, maybe it’s a little intimidating. Just perhaps I spent the hour after I read it checking the price of stock photo services. But it’s packed with useful tips, so go read it.
  • The Food Lab: A New Way to Cook Pasta? J. Kenji López-Alt blows my mind, and sends Italian grandmothers spinning in their graves, by suggesting cooking pasta in a tiny amount of non-boiling water. Madness.
  • Pasta Bigoli over at Cook in Venice is a lovely rambling history of this pasta shape.  It covers everything from the etymology of the name to the fact that in pre-WWII Venice the strenuous task of turning the bigoli press usually fell to one of the household’s daughters.  (No surprise there.)
  • A Serious Bunburyist has one of these presses! He is making bigoli! (Apparently the press really is very hard work.)
  • Ciao Chow Linda has her mother’s bigoli press! It is called a torchio machine! (And she too confirms that yes,  they take a lot of muscle).

My Year at Leith’s: Accurate Measurement

  • The Little Glass Bowls I Can’t Cook Without. Falling firmly into the ‘measure ingredients before you start cooking’ camp is Joe Brown at Gizmodo. A self-confessed small glass bowl aficionado, he rhapsodises about Pyrex 10oz Rimmed Custard Cups as an ingredient organizational tool. He’s also a former chef, and might just know what he’s taking about.
  • How Salty Should Pasta Water Be? In my quest to follow Leith’s directive to measure accurately, I looked up what the pasta/water/salt ratio should be (disappointingly, it wasn’t “some, some, and some”). Daniel Gritzer at Serious Eats covers the issue in depth, complete with a table involving percentages to one decimal point.

All about the Bullseye

There are many aspects of cooking that are sexy, exotic and exciting.

Accurate measurement of ingredients is not one of those things. Rather than conjuring up images of roaming a foreign city sampling surprising street food, the idea of weighing things to the gram takes us back to Year 7 Home Economics and Mrs G telling us for the fifth time that ovens were hot.

One page in to Leith’s Technique Bible, and I’m beginning to think that Mrs G flashbacks are a big part of the reason why people can get excited far more easily over ingredients and gadgets than technique.

Yes, that’s right. My thrilling culinary journey starts with a list of instructions that boil down to the message that good cooks do not “just eyeball it”. Ever.

Dreamstime Ingredients in Bowls
This person loves measuring their ingredients so much, they’ve measured this egg.

I am dubious. I learnt to cook watching my parents, who owned measuring cups and spoons largely because it was the done thing. My usual approach can, in fact, be summed up by the time MJ asked me for the ratio of water and oats to make porridge and I replied in all seriousness, “Some and some.”

Could it really make a noticeable difference if I made sure each teaspoon was level? Or, in fact, used a teaspoon?

Would it streamline my cooking to measure all ingredients before I began, or would it just create a billion times more washing and drive me to the edge of lunacy?

Was fine cooking really all about the bullseye?

Find out in my next post, where I’ll cook the same dish twice: once my way, and once Leith’s.

Readers, are you measurers or eyeballers? Is 307g ever good enough when 300g is called for?

My Year at Leith’s

This year, I’m going to Leith’s School of Food and Wine.

That’s right. I’ll be studying the Diploma course at Britain’s premier culinary school, founded by food icon Prue Leith in 1975.

Well. Almost. I’ll be taking an informal distance-education approach. Okay, I’ll be cooking through Leith’s Technique Bible in my home kitchen. But in terms of culinary school, I think it’s the best attendance option for me. The Technique Bible is billed as containing all the course material from the Diploma, but it retails for £36 rather than £21905 (the cost of the diploma). It can also be accessed in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, 16,893 kilometres from London. The study hours are also more family-friendly, which I’m sure will be appreciated by my toddler Zool and wife MJ.

In short, I am a broke Australian mum living in a culinary wasteland a literal world away from Leith’s. But this year, I’m going to see just what culinary excellence I (and, potentially you) can achieve in a suburban kitchen.

Here are the rules for my challenge:

1. To ‘graduate’ I must be able to competently and consistently execute every technique in Leith’s Techniques Bible.

2. I will, as much as I can in my little suburban outpost, try to live the life of a culinary student. This involves practicing techniques and dishes while feeding myself outside of ‘school’ time; and actively seeking opportunities to learn techniques, dishes and foodways from other people. I will eat new dishes at restaurants (rather than my perennial favourite of fish and chips). I will try new ingredients while learning about them from sellers and producers. I will also try to learn with and from my fellow students (that’s you, kind reader).

3. As much as possible, bearing in mind that I’m planning the curriculum and receiving it, I won’t read ahead. (I’m tempted to Hermione Granger it, but thinking back to how I worked when I was studying at school and university I would poke around in my textbooks before the term started, but I never read them cover to cover. Sorry, Hermione).

What do I hope to achieve? Something transformational.

 

 

On My Stove

There’s a very sensible reason why I chose the name of this blog. And then there’s the real reason.

If we’re being practical, onthestove.net meets all of the recommendations for a website name: three words or less; all words in common use; no difficult spellings; easy to say and remember; evokes the ethos of my brand. All of that. It even has a nifty double meaning – literally what’s being cooked; and a reference to the literary naming convention of calling a treatise “On the…”.

It’s all very clever.

But writing all that satisfied me intellectually even as it left me cold.

Here is the real reason behind the name:

I chose “On the Stove” because those words transport me to my little white stove. I am peering into a pot. The smell is immediate. There are tomatoes in that pot, just turning from pale and slippery to stiff and crimson. I feel hot. Not the near-to-death heat of frying wontons in the middle of an Australian summer, but the full-body warmth that comes from intimate proximity with a simmering liquid. My hand flits down to the temperature knobs, nudging them up and down, almost subconsciously. I know that stove as if it was a part of my body.

The vivid moments in my life come standing next to that stove – even more so than sitting at the table eating what I’ve cooked there.

Just like the hearth in previous eras, that gave warmth and food (and gods and goddesses and customs and ritual and layer upon layer of significance), that stove is the centre of my household. It is where I stand when I’m not working, and where my family comes to find me to ask “Are we going soon?”, or “Where’s my work uniform”, or “Why does water bulge a little above the top of a full cup?” (1)

The stove is the place at which ingredients from outside our house become the food we consume as a family.

Writing that gives me a thrill. I want to run to the kitchen and scrub my stove; to perform an act of worship with crème cleaner and a scouring pad.

So join me as I immerse myself in the possibilities of cooking, and explore the ways that people through human history have turned ingredients into food. And please, let me know – what’s on your stove?

(1) “Not yet”, “In your wardrobe”, and “Surface tension”